So You Think You’re Good at Math

Will somebody please explain to me why children no longer memorize the basic math tables?

It seems to me that the easiest and quickest way to get an answer is to have tables memorized. Do children no longer need to be able to perform basic calculations because we have calculators? I hope that’s not the case.

A couple of weeks ago, Mary Ellen had a math worksheet for homework. She likes math and was even used in a training video made to teach teachers. I understand she could do everything expected of her. But this particular evening, she was tired and grumpy and perhaps given to a bit of laziness. She wanted my help. Now, I didn’t take a lot of advanced math courses in college because that wasn’t what interested me, but I’m good at the basics, can do a lot of problems in my head, and am a good estimator.

Mary Ellen’s second-grade work wasn’t difficult—two digit addition and subtraction. It took a long time, and her approach baffled me. I wrote her teacher and asked for a short course in how they were being taught so I could be more helpful. She said they work off doubles, fives, and tens. That seemed terribly inefficient to me.

Texas has not adopted Common Core Curriculum, but forty-five states have, so I searched the internet to find out exactly what Common Core math is. “Exactly” turned out to be elusive. I did find this answer at“Common Core Math is a program that focuses on problem-solving, analytical and critical-thinking skills. The program promises to prepare students for college courses at the freshman level, workforce training classes and entry-level careers.” A worthy goal. Why did I think I’d been prepared?

I then looked at the second-grade standards and found 269 specific skills the students are expected to master including this one. “Write addition sentences for arrays: sums to 25.” I had to look up array as a math term. It is a set of numbers or objects that follow a specific pattern.

The Texas standards contain this expectation: recall basic facts to add and subtract within 20 with automaticity. Automaticity? Sounds like memorizing tables to me, so why don’t they do it?

I am beyond grateful that Mary Ellen likes math and rarely needs my assistance.

2 thoughts on “So You Think You’re Good at Math”

  1. I’m with you! An adult student once complained to me that her daughter got an answer wrong, although the answer was correct. The teacher wanted something else. I could only guess that she wanted an estimate. Also, when students at Amarillo College were studying math with us in the learning center, one of the main reasons they struggled was because they’d never memorized multiplication facts.

    1. Education seems to be good at always changing the approach. What happened to if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. I just looked at a second-grade math paper she brought home and couldn’t figure out what she had done. It was adding 5 single digits.

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