Or, are they just a piece of a massive, more complex problem?
This past Thursday for our MYCI Planning Meeting WSG Dan Meyer, there was quite a bit of discussion surrounding math facts as a student learning need. This is no surprise, as I think we can all agree that this is an area we would like to support our students in. The discussions at each table made it clear to me that we are all passionate about supporting our students in their mathematical journeys. Some of the discussions focused on math facts in general, while others were more specific such as being able to recall multiplication facts or working with fractions. All great discussion with great ideas being carved out along the way.
During our time debriefing the session, Justin Levack threw out a great question that I couldn’t find an answer for.
His question was:
If ______________ (math facts, multiplication tables, fraction fluency, etc.) is the most urgent student learning need in mathematics for a classroom/school/district, what exactly are students being held back from doing?
This was an “ah-ha” moment for me as we often think of our struggling students as those who do not know their math facts. However, maybe we need to zoom out a bit to discuss why these students struggle with math facts in the first place?
Does knowing times tables actually make students better in other areas of math, or is it a result of the students doing something else? Or just one piece of what makes a student strong in math? Sure, many strong math students know multiplication tables, but can we state without a doubt that knowing multiplication tables is the cause and being strong in math is the effect?
Maybe. Maybe not.
What if knowing multiplication tables is the effect of some other factor?
Could it be that having some other skills/abilities makes multiplication facts easier to recall? If so, can we somehow identify these skills/abilities and then spend some of our time focusing on them as well?
While I don’t have the answer, it could be worth a discussion with your MYCI Team, math department and/or professional learning network to determine whether we need to turn more stones to inform how we move forward.
With this, I’ll end with an article that really helped me better define what I would love for my students to be able to do once they leave my classroom:
Fluency Without Fear: Research Evidence on the Best Ways to Learn Math Facts by Jo Boaler, Stanford University.
I think this article does a great job summarizing some of the pieces of our discussion last Thursday and might serve as a starting point as we continue our journey to support students along the math continuum.
What are your thoughts? Let’s keep the conversation going!
After posting this article on Twitter, I liked this response:
@MathletePearce Word up. Math facts are just the canary in the coal mine. Not that hard to master, so… what's the real problem?
— Tilton's Algebra (@tiltonsalgebra) December 8, 2015
Definitely an analogy I will be using in the future.