Times Tables

By Eric Crampton 24/06/2015

Me at The Press on the Initiative’s numeracy report:

The Numeracy Project, as it was called, had some really great elements. Rather than simply rote learning facts, students would also build their understanding of why six by nine is 54 and alternative strategies for figuring it out. Those alternative strategies can really help when trying to multiply larger figures beyond the twelve-by-twelve that those my age had to memorise.

But something went wrong in the implementation – or at least in some schools. There is a lot of school-by-school variation in New Zealand – and this is a good thing. But some schools took the Numeracy Project a bit too literally. Rather than complementing the times tables with the additional strategies, they threw out the rote learning part.

Patterson’s report suggests this too great a lean against rote learning lies behind some of New Zealand’s recent poor maths scores. Kids who have to spend time working out six by nine use up mental capacity that then is not available to take the next steps. Those who memorised it can move quickly to the next step in applying their answer.

Far from a call to abandon modern teaching practices in favour of rote learning, Patterson’s report argued simply that the pendulum has swung too far. We need both rote learning and understanding. The report also recommended measures to help parents ensure that their kids’ teachers are ready to really apply the more modern mathematics teaching methods which require greater teacher numeracy than teaching simple rote memorisation.

While the Initiative’s Twitter stream filled with the usual attempts to pigeon-hole our recommendations into the Kiwi Twitteratti’s ideological view of the world, our email inbox filled up with supportive messages from teachers, university lecturers, and maths tutors who agree that New Zealand kids really deserve better.

Read the whole thing…