Math FUNdamentals, not memorization

Posted February 18, 2020

As a school, we sometimes get questions about why students are not being drilled on their math facts. The truth is that they are practising their facts, but students are also practising their understanding of math concepts in order to become flexible thinkers in math. We are trying to give them the skills to apply their knowledge to different contexts. The authors of Visible Learning in Mathematics outline it this way: “We believe the true purpose of getting an education is to apprentice students into becoming their own teachers”. The principle of this quote, I think, is pretty widely accepted. As parents, guardians, caregivers and teachers, we strive to create independence in our children so they will become self-sufficient, contributing problem solvers and thinkers in society.

On the education ministry’s website, this ideal is outlined on the Parent’s Guide to Mathematics:

By developing a strong understanding of numbers, students will be able to perform mathematical calculations quickly and accurately — whether they do so mentally, on paper, or by using a calculator. The ultimate goal is for them to be able to perform mathematical procedures with ease. This skill will also support students as they develop their skills in critical thinking and problem solving”

In my last blog, there were some examples of how we moved from picturing and understanding numbers to perform operations on them. To illustrate the difference between memorizing math and knowing how to apply math concepts, consider the following example from Doing Mathematics with Your Child, Kindergarten to Grade 6, A Parent Guide:

Mathematicians know that there are different ways to represent a quantity – for example, 18 can be represented as 20 – 2 and as 15 + 3. 

Ask your child to pretend that the number 8 key on the calculator is broken. Ask how he or she can make the number 18 appear on the screen without the 8 key. (Sample answers include 20 – 2 and 15 + 3). • Ask other questions of the same type by using different “broken” keys. Make this task easier or more challenging by varying the number your child must show on the calculator

Take some time to read and explore A Parent’s Guide to the Fundamentals of Math. And remember, memorizing your math facts is important, but understanding the concepts behind them is more important!


Visible Learning in Mathematics, Hattie, John, Douglas Fischer and Nancy Frey, Corwin Mathematics, 2017. Page 176.

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