Children Who Memorize Times Tables Multiply Faster and More
BBC News, September 8, 2004
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memorize their times tables with traditional chants do their
sums faster and more accurately than others, a science
conference has heard.
More children should learn their tables by rote, said Dr Sylvia
Steel at the British Association's conference.
She said studies showed those who had learnt their tables by
heart did their sums the most effectively.
Math teachers say they use the times tables with a range of
other techniques to get children to multiply numbers.
Dr Steel, a research associate at Royal Holloway University,
London, said children who used blocks or fingers to work out the
problems were slower and less accurate.
"If I had my way, children would know their tables, but it is
important children should understand what they are doing rather
than just chanting," she said.
'Behind closed doors'
She told delegates rote learning had given way over the past 30
years to methods using shapes, diagrams or grids, which aimed to
emphasize understanding or arithmetic concepts.
"Learning multiplication tables was, for a while, almost extinct
in state schools because it was considered boring and unlikely
to lead to understanding," said Dr Steel.
But many teachers taught children by rote "behind closed doors",
Children aged between seven and 12 took part in two studies
which involved working out problems from memory, calculation and
"Auditory rote learning of multiplication tables appeared to be
the most successful method of mastering multiplication facts,"
said Dr Steel.
Methods which involved counting or calculation did not
necessarily lead to automatic retrieval of number facts, she
Math teachers' representatives dispute the claim that too few
children learn their times tables by rote.
Barbara Ball, of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics,
told BBC News Online that although times tables went out of
fashion for a while, they are being learnt in school - alongside
a range of other methods.
"Ten years ago, there was less recalling of tables but I would
say that we have gone back to the tables.
"There are people who are about 20 who probably don't know their
times tables, but the tables are being taught in schools, along
with all sorts of other strategies.
"There is no right way or wrong way of doing anything and
teachers have a range of different strategies because what helps
one child to learn a concept might not work for another."
She said the introduction of the numeracy hour in schools, with
its emphasis on whole-class teaching, probably meant more tables
were being taught.
However, she said different children might prefer different ways
of arriving at answers, such as doubling or halving.
For example, when asked what seven eights were, a child might
get the answer by first saying that seven fours were 28, then
doubling that to get 56.
Rising results in the national schools tests suggested children
were getting better at math, she said.
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