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Topic: upper middle schoolers that haven't yet mastered multiplication facts

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Subject:   RE: upper middle schoolers that haven't yet mastered multiplication facts
Author: reese
Date: Dec 6 2004
Hello Bethy,
This is George Reese at UIUC. This type of question is difficult
to respond to since you're asking for the answer to what seems
a simple question, "what's the best thing to do?" but I don't know of a simple
answer in anything I've read.

Here's what I can say, first as someone who's read a lot of math education
research, the main emphasis from research articles has been on making the
mathematics meaningful. This is integral to the reform curricula like Connected
Math, MathThematics, or any that take the NCTM standards seriously. I don't know
what approaches you've tried or what the history of your school is or what
curriculum and philosophy of teaching you come from, so it's hard for me as a
math educator to say, "Do this." Instead, there are professional development
approaches to mathematics teaching as a whole, not just to the specific deficit
you're discussing. If you want to email me directly, we can dialogue on these

On the other hand, I have a reply as a parent. My daughter did not learn her
multiplication tables until sixth grade. That was late for her school, and
hopefully it is for your school as well. I imagine that's why you're so upset
with 7th and 8th graders struggling. Surely something is up. If these are normal
kids, they can master complicated digital devices, memorize the lengthy and
complex names of dinosaurs, memorize song lyrics that they could recite for
hours. Surely the can learn multiplication tables to 10, 12, or even 20 (though
few adults know 17x17 off the top of their heads).

With my daughter, we spent some time working with flash cards. I told her not to
worry, especially about the timed tests. Also, she realized later that their
were tricks to those timed tests (which I think tell you very little about what
kids know), finish the ones you can do easily first (all the 0 x anything), then
go back to the others. Test anxiety was a factor. I would encourage you to go to
your parents and to other members of your school community with a clear
statement of why it is important for them to know these facts, and ask for
assistance. There are games and tools, and this is one area where I would use
the math blaster or other drill and practice games. I dislike them normally, and
I definitely wouldn't waste class time with them, but if drill is what's needed,
that's what they should do.

The main thing, in my opinion, is to be clear on why they need to know them. My
answer is that, for a fundamental number sense, students need to have certain
ready facts, and mulitiplcation tables through, say 12 x 12, greatly aids in
acquiring this sense. It helps for example, in being able to critique the
answers that are given by calculators and spreadsheets, and of course, for later
larger calculations, should you need to do them by hand.


On Dec  6 2004, Bethy wrote:
> I'm about at wits end. I teach in a very small rural school (one
> school district) and we have a number of students who, at 7th and
> 8th grade, still don't know 75% or more of the multiplication facts.
> I'm not a proponent of rote memorization, but these students need
> some means of quickly retrieving/calculating this information. What
> does the research indicate? Does anyone know of an effective method
> for equipping these students with a procedure so that they can move
> ahead?

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