Thursday, February 01, 2007

Those Darn Math Facts 

If you have a child in 4th, 5th or 6th grade you know how important it is to learn long division and double digit multiplication. The referenced video, unfortunately, shows what is happening in classrooms across the nation. It is not pretty. Yet our tax dollars are being spent on textbooks whose authors think learning math facts is a waste of time. (Do they think learning an alphabet and letter patterns is also a waste of time?)

One of my previous careers was that of an elementary teacher - 4th, 5th and 6th grade. My strongest subjects were science and math. The year I taught math to all the sixth graders, they took a standardized test in the fall. Their test results for math placed them in the 50th percentile, where this particular school usually placed and everyone was happy. Well, not everyone, I sure wasn't pleased with the results. They made far too many errors because they did not know their times tables. What to do?

I devised time tests, long before they became a standard (some places). Students had 50 facts to complete in 3 minutes. If they made three or fewer errors, their time dropped to 2.5 minutes. No grades. What happened? The standardized test was given again in the spring. "My" math students raised their average score to the 75th percentile! They just nailed it! Memorizing works. It breeds self-confidence, eliminates "dumb" mistakes.

The referenced video is important - 15 minutes - long but crucial. If you have a child or children using either of the referenced texts, ask why? Not only is spending money on these texts wasted dollars, it also denies children the right to learn what they will need in life. It hurts their self-image. It does not help them with their futures.