Math Facts

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“Memorizing math facts is the most important step to understanding math. Math facts are the building blocks to all other math concepts and memorizing makes them readily available” (EHow Contributor, 2011). To clarify, a math fact is basic base-10 calculation of single digit numbers. Examples of basic math facts include addition and multiplication problems such as 1 + 1, 4 + 5, 3 x 5 and their opposites, 2 – 1, 9 – 4, 15/5(Marques, 2010 and Yermish, 2011). Typically, these facts are memorized at grade levels deemed appropriate to a student’s readiness – usually second or third grade for addition and subtraction and fourth grade for multiplication and division. If a child can say the answer to a math fact problem within a couple of seconds, this is considered mastery of the fact (Marques, 2010). Automaticity – the point at which something is automatic- is the goal when referring to math facts. Students are expected to be able to recall facts without spending time thinking about them, counting on their fingers, using manipulatives, etc (Yermish, 2011). . In order to become a fluent reader, a person must memorize the sounds that letters make and the sounds that those letters make when combined with other letters. Knowing math facts, combinations of numbers, is just as critical to becoming fluent in math. Numbers facts are to math as the alphabet is to reading, without them a person cannot fully succeed. (Yermish, 2011 and Marquez, 2010). A “known” fact is one that is “answered automatically and correctly without counting” (Greenwald, 2011). In order for a child to achieve academically, the child must master basic facts. A child's progress with problem-solving, algebra and higher-order math concepts is negatively impacted by a lack of fact fluency. As a result, a child's overall self confidence and general academic performance will decline (Groves, 2011). In the 1990’s, math curriculum reforms were introduced which replaced rote memorization with what is referred to as integrative math teaching. “This involves teaching many different concepts at the same time instead of sequentially, and using manipulatives in place of numbers to illustrate mathematical concepts long after number sense should have been mastered” (Groves, 2011). This switch in theory, caused serious controversy among mathematicians and math educators. If children have not yet mastered basic math facts, how can they be expected to master advanced concepts? Researchers believe that it is just too much too soon for young children (Groves, 2011). Tom Loveless says “Youngsters who have not mastered whole number arithmetic by the end of 4th grade are at risk of later becoming remedial students in mathematics.” Furthermore, he “urges that every student in the nation should receive a thorough grounding in arithmetic” (Loveless, 2011). The push to master facts by a certain age and prior to moving on to more complex math is most controversial with parents and teachers of gifted students. These students are often thought to be bored by simple, basic math concepts. Although “some of the very highest areas of math do not require automaticity of basic math facts, they do require automaticity of the skills that fall somewhere in between them and single-digit addition, and that those skills are very difficult to master and to automatize when the basic stuff isn't firmly in place” (Yermish, 2011). Is it possible for students to advance without being secure? Math is cumulative, and, as a result, weaknesses in arithmetic will effect the learning of all future math. Most people believe that learning math facts is boring. This is not a reason to skip learning them. This becomes a challenge for teachers. They must find a way to make intrinsically boring material interesting enough that students will see the relevance and show a desire to master it because it is important.

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