Memorizing math facts, is it really THAT important?

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I have taught in a regular elementary education classroom for 32 years. I have had all sorts of students. Some have been absolutely brilliant at math calculations and problem solving. Others have struggled with math and counted on their fingers. But, in the end, making math easy for all of them has been my goal.

Why? I was the one in math class who struggled. I was the child who didn’t know my math facts. It was like I was looking at a foreign language and I couldn’t put it together. I moved multiple times as a child. I managed to find myself in a different area of study in each classroom. In one room the teacher would be doing simple addition, the next room, the teacher was doing long division and I didn’t even know my multiplication facts. Then I would show up in a different classroom and they were doing fractions. I wasn’t able to put it all together.

After moving around a lot, my sisters and I moved to a different state with my father. He went to my parent teacher conferences and discovered just how far behind I was. He was angry at me for not telling him about my struggle. He decided to have me sit down with him every night and do math at the kitchen table. It was horrible! I felt stupid. I was discouraged. I was angry. I wanted to blame everyone else. But, whether I was a victim of circumstance or not, I did know deep down that I needed to study my math facts. My father told me that we were going to sit at the kitchen table and do math until I got it. Well, I got it for awhile, I was able to demonstrate long division to him, however, I still had a lot of missing information. I simply didn’t have good math sense.

I remember sitting in my junior high math class and thinking, “Will this just go away?” Algebra was a big mystery. I didn’t have the underlying skills to make it click. I was so lucky to have a really good friend, Michelle, who actually would do a lot of tutoring with me. She held my hand and really helped me get through my junior and senior high math classes. My poor teachers, they probably just scratched their heads when they saw me in their classes. I am very grateful for Michelle. She was a mathematical lifesaver for me!

The good news is, I buckled down, and got it figured out. It was a lot of hard work. It was with the help of a lot of good people. It was a blessing to know that people cared and wanted me to see all of the math connections I was missing.

I sill wonder what my teachers thought as I was working on my teaching degree. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of the kids that I would get to work with.

I also never thought I would be hired as a 4-6 grade math and science teacher. My math anxiety had me worried that I would not be able to help the kids make the connections I knew they needed to be successful in their math classes. My goal was to make it fun and to make kids want to learn and retain the information.

This is a rather long walk to the topic of the question I posed in the title of this conversation. Is it important to memorize math facts? I believe it is. I think a lot of my struggles and anxiety came from the fact that I didn’t have a solid understanding of my math facts. I was lost in counting math facts out. By the time I got the answer to the math fact, I was lost in the algorithm and had to backtrack. It took me much, much longer to do the math problems than necessary. I didn’t see the relationships between the numbers. I certainly didn’t have solid number sense either. That led to so many problems for me. I had to take the long way to understanding. No wonder I was frustrated.

As I worked on getting my education degree, I saw just how much I had missed. Stability definitely would have helped me out. I also went to school during the time prior to state standards. There wasn’t a lot of consistency between schools. That certainly didn’t help a student like me, who was moving frequently due to familial circumstances.

I see the same thing in some of the students that I work with and have worked with. I see that frustration, the confusion, the anxiety. I want my students to feel confident. I want them to know their math facts so they can be confident. I want them to have a solid understanding of number sense. It is all so much easier when they can quickly recall their math facts. That fact fluency is a magical part of this mathematical language that our children are learning.

So, what can one do to make math fun and support your child as they learn their math facts? I know that many people do not think that flashcards are the answer. They are boring, they are paper and that certainly is the not the techy way to go about learning. But, why not make a game out of them? Whether your child is learning their addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division facts, they can play games to make things fun. How about a good game of war? There are all kinds of variations to the game and it is just a lot of fun!

What about a fun game of checkers? Many years ago, I made some laminated checker boards. Before I laminated them, I put some math facts on the black squares. Since I teach fifth grade, my boards were all centered around multiplication facts. I laminated them and then went to a tile center and got some small ceramic bathroom tiles. The kids use those as their checkers. We have a lot of fun practicing our math facts, but we are also working on logic as well. What better way to practice than with some good old fashioned strategy games?

I also created a fun game of football for the kids to play. I made cards with math facts on them. The kids could move forward on the field each time they got the fact right. Who doesn’t want to score in the game?

We can always rely on electronics. I have some great games that I use on that support all levels of math in the elementary levels. We don’t use them often in class, but when we do the kids know it is a treat. The games are even interactive enough to be played as challenges to one another. The students can share a code on them and play against one another.

I also have a account. Quizlet is a free flashcard account. You can utilize it for practicing any topics you want to input into it. I have not had to use the flashcards on my account this year for multiplication facts, but you can sign up for a free account and look for flashcards that support what you are studying. It is a perfect way to make digital flashcards.

I know that some kiddos really need to have a tactile experience when they are learning new math facts. When I first started to teach, I would use salt trays for my students to practice their math facts. I would also use shaving cream on their desks to practice their facts. Today I use markerboard markers on their desks or on a white board for them to practice.

Once my students start to see they are remembering their math facts, they build confidence. That automaticity leads to math fact fluency. Fluency is key to confidence. It is key to building on each level of their math.

I don’t want my kiddos to be the one sitting in their upper level math classes on the struggle bus. i want them to be successful and confident.

If this helpful to you, please share it with others. If you are looking for a way to support your child in their journey through school, and feel like your child needs some assistance, let me know. I may be able to help. If I cannot help, I may be able to help you find someone who can.

If you want more information on my tutoring services, check out

Published by Tutoring with Sheryl

I have 32 years of experience teaching in public schools in Nebraska. I hold a Bachelor of Science in Education from the University of Nebraska-Lincon. I hold a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from Doane University. I have 2 Google for Education Certifications. I have been tutoring online for 1 year. I have worked with countless students of all ages to support their education. I also support teachers with planning and management in their classrooms.

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