The Importance of Math Facts in a Digital World

With the wide availability of calculators on phones, mobile devices, computers, and many other electronic devices, some may wonder if it’s still essential for students to commit math facts to memory.  In a world replete with digital assistance is the memorization of math facts still necessary?

Researchers Daniel Ansari and Gavin Price of the Numerical Cognition Laboratory at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, and Michèle M. M. Mazzocco, the director of the Math Skills Development Project at Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, analyzed the links between students’ math achievement and the way their brains processed the most basic problems. Their study was published this month in the Journal of Neuroscience. Interestingly, the study shows that the process in which students compute single-digit math problems may be indicative of how well they perform on college-readiness exams.   Students that scored higher appeared to recall answers from memory while the students that were lower performing used an area of the brain associated with processing, indicating they were working through the problem.   As Ansari comments, “Perhaps the building of those networks early in development go on to facilitate high-level learning, which in turn allows you to free up working memory”.

This study appears to support the idea that fluency with basic math facts is, in fact, an important skill.  There are multiple ways to support the codification of basic math fluency: asking your child to recite basic math facts while riding in the car, while waiting for meals at restaurants, while waiting at the doctor’s office.  Siblings can even quiz each other – serving to not only practice math skills, but to signal the importance of academic achievement.  All of these passive settings provide clear opportunities to reinforce and codify basic math fluency.

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