Should Students Memorize Times Tables?

should students memorize times tablesEveryone can agree that multiplication is a necessary part of a student’s early math education.  Something that is not agreed on is if memorizing multiplication facts is essential.  There is much debate over the question “Should students memorize times tables?” To me the answer is simple: memorization based on repetition is vital to success.

Think of learning the basics of new language. Students start learning vocabulary words. To do this, they listen to the words over and over. Then, they move on to reading the words over and over.  Next, they write the words over and over.  Finally, they begin saying the words over and over. Catch the pattern? They repeat and repeat until the word is placed into their memory. The basics of math can be thought of in the same way. To be clear, this does not mean to negate understanding, but memorization should supplement it.

Why Students Should Memorize Times Tables

A Solid Foundation

By the end of the third grade common core states, students should know, FROM MEMORY, the products of any two one digit numbers.  Of course, this does not mean after third grade you will never use this skill again.  Students who do not have the basic skills of multiplication will struggle in following years, or for the very least, it will make math much more challenging than it needs to be.

Topics such as long division and multiplication, operations with fractions, and algebra require the knowledge of basic multiplication. Examine the fraction addition problem, . In order to find the sum, we need to find a common denominator. Without the memorization of times tables, finding the common denominator, 18, may be extremely difficult and time consuming in comparison to the students who know their times tables. You cannot run before you walk.  Creating a solid foundation is critical to a student’s success in math.

The Almighty Calculator

A simple rebuttal to the question “Should students memorize times tables?” is “I can just use a calculator.” The calculator is a great tool that has many uses in mathematics, but I do not agree that basic multiplication facts in one of them. Students dependent on calculators for basic multiplication facts…

  • take much longer to solve more complex problems.
  • are weak in estimation.
  • lack understanding to check their answer.

Not to mention the simple fact that a calculator will not always be available or allowed.

Falling Behind & Staying Behind

Like any subject or skill in life, practice leads to confidence and confidence leads to success.  Failure to practice numerical drills and learn these basic mathematical skills leads to students falling behind in speed and accuracy. Those that fall behind early tend to lose interest in the subject because they are not as proficient as the other students. Students may even come to believe that they aren’t smart enough to learn math (not true!).

Students who do memorize times tables, gain confidence from an early age. This is especially important in a subject like math that already has a challenging connotation with it.

Real Life Scenarios

The beauty of mathematics is that we see it in our everyday lives, especially basic mathematical skills.  Whether we are trying to follow a recipe, going out to eat, or going to the store, math is involved. That means that if you did not memorize times tables as a child, basic tasks in life become a bit more challenging (and who needs that?).  If a student was taught to memorize times tables they can double a recipe, calculate a tip, and estimate the price of groceries.

When students memorize times tables they have more success throughout their mathematical education and using mathematics in their everyday lives. Memorization should supplement understanding of the topic to benefit the students most.  Have any great games or activities to memorize multiplication tables?

Author: Nate Baltzer, Teacher at A Grade Ahead


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