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Memorizing the Basic Facts with Math Games

Frank L. Palaia, PhD, is a science teacher in the Lee County School District and at Edison State College. As a guest columnist for the of Ft. Myers, Florida, he had this to say about students in his classes, “Most students today have not memorized basic math facts in elementary and middle school. Each year there will be otherwise intelligent junior or senior students in my high-school classes who asks a question like, “What is eight times seven?”

As an elementary math specialist, I see that children no longer memorize their addition facts or multiplication tables. With the math curriculum as extensive as it is, teachers cannot afford to take the time to ensure that students learn the basic facts (sad, but true).

Parents are partners in the process, and can offer greater opportunities for their child to succeed in math if they support the learning of the basics at home. Math games fit the bill wonderfully!

Math games for kids and families are the perfect way to reinforce and extend the skills children learn at school. They are one of the most effective ways that parents can develop their child’s math skills without lecturing or applying pressure. When studying math, there’s an element of repetition that’s an important part of learning new concepts and developing automatic recall of math facts. Number facts (I’m sure you remember memorizing those times tables?) can be boring and tedious to learn and practice. A game can generate an enormous amount of practice – practice that does not have kids complaining about how much work they are having to do. What better way can there be than an interesting game as a way of mastering them?

Games are fun and create a context for developing children’s mathematical reasoning. Through playing and analyzing games, children also gain computational fluency by describing more efficient strategies and discussing relationships among numbers.

First graders and second graders need to have the addition facts to 10 in long-term memory. When they hear 6+4, they immediately know (without counting fingers) that the answer is 10. Using fingers to count is a good, early strategy but with practice, those facts should be automatic.

Third graders and fourth graders need to have all of the multiplication facts to automaticity.

Methods such as flash cards, dittos, and workbook pages stress rote memorization of basic number facts and are usually boring and do not require learners to participate actively in thought and reflection. They do not go easily or quickly into long-term memory.

Games teach or reinforce many of the skills that a formal curriculum teaches, plus a skill that math homework sometimes, mistakenly, leaves out – the skill of having fun with math, of thinking hard and enjoying it.

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