Mad Minute math: Bad for kids?

Should we stop making kids memorize times tables and ban Mad Minute Mondays? asks Jill Barshay on the Hechinger Report. Flash cards, drills — and especially timed quizzes — are “damaging” for kids, argues Jo Boaler, a Stanford education professor in Fluency Without Fear: Research Evidence on the Best Ways to Learn Math Facts.

These cards promote mathematical insight and number sense promote mathematical insight and number sense by depicting numbers in different ways, argues Boaler

These cards promote mathematical insight and number sense by depicting numbers in different ways, argues Jo Boaler.

“Drilling without understanding is harmful,” Boaler told Barshay. “I’m not saying that math facts aren’t important. I’m saying that math facts are best learned when we understand them and use them in different situations.”

Number sense is developed through “rich” mathematical problems, argues Boaler.

Too much emphasis on rote memorization, she says, inhibits students’ abilities to think about numbers creatively, to build them up and break them down. She cites her own 2009 study, which found that low achieving students tended to memorize methods and were unable to interact with numbers flexibly.

Also, memorizing times tables is boring, turning off high achievers, she believes.

I memorized the times tables in fourth grade. It wasn’t boring, because it didn’t take very long. In recent years, I’ve encountered many students who use calculators for the simplest problems and have no number sense.

In search of education’s ‘sweet spot’

Are education professionals engaged in soul-searching or navel-gazing? National Journal Online’s Education Experts looks for a “sweet spot” of “common knowledge that facilitates consensus but also allows for honest differences of opinion.”

1) Washington insiders consistently underestimate current spending on K-12 education and overestimate average class size, according to a National Journal education poll conducted in association with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

2) A Fordham Institute survey found mixed responses from professors of education, with 83 percent saying it is “absolutely essential” for public school teachers to teach 21st-century skills but only 36 percent saying the same about teaching math facts.

If only 36 percent of education professors think it’s essential to teach math facts, then there’s no sweet spot, writes Bob Schaffer, a former congressman who chairs the Colorado Board of Education.

In five years, today’s 21st-century skills – whatever that really means – will already be obsolete. Math facts won’t.

Students used to be taught part of America’s greatness was its phenomenal ability to accommodate varied approaches to such fundamental and profound questions as, for example, what children should be taught. That was back in the embryonic dark ages of public education before Washington insiders knew best how to teach young citizens.

In those days, the only laboratories of democracy were referred to as “These United States.” Today, these pesky states – conceived by the 18th-century minds of men like Jefferson, Madison and Franklin – are treated as mere impediments to the kind of advanced learning necessary to sustain a great Republic.

Watch out for either/or questions, writes Steve Peha of Teaching That Makes Sense. “And” is often the right answer.