During a Radio five Live interview in 1998, UK college standards Minister Stephen Byers was asked: What is 7 time 8? He provided the prize 54. His erroneous answer prompted personal ridicule across the national media and helped press sentiment to do memorization of the 12 x 12 times table by period nine one English college standard.

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When you look in ~ this table, go the “54” seem out of place?

There are definitely valid emotional reasons because that answering basic questions erroneously under pressure. But let’s imagine Minister Byers had the opportunity and also wherewithal to think for a moment prior to answering. Together a hypothetical exercise, right here are four feasible answers he could have given. I beg your pardon of them execute you think could have motivated a sense of trust in his abilities?

a) “54”

b) “This is a tricky one. But I remember being taught the mnemonic ‘5 6 7 8.’ for this reason 7x8 is 56”.

c) “This is a tricky one. Yet I do have in my head that 7x7 is 49, therefore 7x8 is seven much more than this: 56.”

d) “56"

It could be the many people would say response d) inspires the most confidence: “Just know your mathematics facts.” If your single experience and also expectation of math is computation and computation facts, then rate facility is the key to success for that check out of the mathematics. “Let’s not deny ours nine-year-old lads and also lasses the opportunity to succeed.” plenty of folk more argue the practicing memorization disclosure neural plasticity, among other things, and also there go seem to be proof that memorizing arithmetic facts for facility affects the hippocampal region of the brain, the region responsible for, well, memorizing facts.

So if computation is your major view the mathematics and also the memorization one conducts because that success in it is conducted with joy and ease and also fun-regular practice, then go for it. Just keep it joyful i say! and there are plenty of pleasant methods to help young students construct their expertise of numbers and also have arithmetic facts at prepared hand. All is in reality fine and also good, in spite of the vehement debates about “rote memorization” top top the internet. Again, my only advice/wish: constantly keep vision of joy.

Well, every is well and good up to a point.

Those discussions seem come be installed in the paper definition of early on grade mathematics — around memorizing multiplication tables, in details — v the proclaimed goal of improving facility for upper-elementary arithmetic algorithms and also the splattering of arithmetic that can come up in also later grades. Us seem come forget the our young students are on a thirteen-year journey of mathematics, K with 12, that is. And the mass of those years will not be focused on arithmetic computation. (Senior year math is not around doing exceptionally long multiplication problems.)

Here’s my view on the memorization debate, through regard come the upper-school math of grades 8 v 12, and also college mathematics too:

I would be most impressed if Minister Byers reply c).

I say the fumbling is okay. Having actually the trust to try recovering from a fumble, and to discover success to boot, is admirable! price c) would say come me the the Minister, so countless years because his schooling, has maintained an agility v number play and also is thinking like a mathematician. Mathematics, in fact, could well be defined as the examine of and also play through structure and so c) demonstrates exactly the art and also practice of law mathematics. It is the mathematics I exercise as a mathematician and the mathematics high-school and college students will experience.


There is too lot content in the high college curriculum come memorize. (Well, some students do occupational to memorize it all, yet I am not certain if that strategy is joyful.) consider for example, trigonometry, friend know, the sine, cosine, and tangent of angles.

In a pre-calculus class one starts come play v trigonometric identities. And there a countless of them! right here are twenty 5 your son will most likely encounter – and they space scary! (One equation is really three strung together.)



Where’s the contact “Our student require to understand their trig identities by age 16.”?

Of course, together a high school teacher, i don’t want students come memorize every these rules (and I, as a mathematician, don’t desire them mine head either: they are ugly and also hard!)

So what perform I want my students to do and what carry out I personally do as a mathematician?

We take it inventory. The is, us take stock of what we already have in store and look to check out what we can create from what us have. The is no an accident that the native inventory and invent are bound together.

The following diagram shows how students can reduce the task “memorizing” this list to

a) recognizing 5 formulas as currently in share – they are clear aftermath of our snapshot of what trigonometry is,

b) recognizing the the mass of recipe in the perform follow as after-effects of the three definitions and just two identities.



The 5 identities already “in stock” and the three definitions and also two identities essential to fill in the lacking parts.

There are plenty of trigonometric identities the end there, many much more than twenty-five. And also after a course discussion favor the one over I would be i was sure my high-school students might handle previously unseen identities. Simply as I have hope that if Stephen Byers reply c) to the multiplication truth 7 x 8 = 56, he can have the agility and also confidence of mental to view why 7 ½ x 7 ½ is mighty close to being 56 too. (How close?) Or must we have students memorize your fractional multiplication tables?

So would it be inappropriate to help prepare middle school students because that this kind of high institution thinking?

Suppose, in a buoyant class discussion, we attracted a 10 x 10 multiplication table top top the board and also asked student to

a) circle every the multiplication truth they think are straightforward and already have in their heads (the multiples of 1, the multiples of 10, 3 times 3, and also so on)

b) observe that, since the table is symmetrical, over there are only 55, no 100, multiplication facts to kind out. Phew!

c) discuss strategies because that swiftly acquiring to the multiplication facts they find difficult and comment on what appears to do them difficult.

Perhaps in such a discussion the tricky products might normally start come stick too.


All conversations require context. An exchange about the level of math-fact inventory essential for an excellent mathematical development needs context too. Creation for what mathematics? What see of mathematics? What grade levels? ours students will endure a full range of mathematical frameworks in your K-12 journeys — computation and also arithmetic, geometry, algebra, modeling, and analysis and calculus — each requiring a shift in math maturity for dealing with the concepts involved. Can we keep that in mind?

But probably the memorization discussions are not about mathematics per se, however the benefits of practicing memorization in and of itself, with the mathematics classroom just being one arena in school for law so: recite every 144 multiplication facts in mathematics class, every 50 state resources in social studies class, passages from Macbeth in English class, and also so on. Or maybe it is a mix of both motivations: occurring instant recall that multiplication facts has our youngsters exercise memorization skills while building some mental inventory of K-5 computation facts at least. A win-win if you will.

I discover it difficult to decipher the motivation of many of the piece I review on the internet about memorization in the math classroom. Ns am commonly unable come comment simply because I don’t recognize the underlying context of the argument.

But everything the instance presented for certain mathematical methods shall be, all will certainly be an excellent if we make sure the practice is true to mathematics, attends to the totality story of mathematics, and, many important, is performed with delight for one and also all. Push-ups might be necessary every now and then, for sure, and also that is fine once we’ve play with math for a while and know why we desire to carry out push-ups. We just can’t let exercises it is in the sole defining mathematical suffer for ours students. (Many, prefer me, problem that a “drill” approach to memorization falls into this trap.)

How and also when we intend students to know or number that 7 x 8 is 56 will constantly be up for debate, i am sure. Hope we can be clear and also explicit in future conversations around which facets of the K-12 mathematics journey we are speaking to. And also as us reflect ~ above the education system, let’s also be sure to identify the occupational our educators currently do. Right now they work hard to bring the meaning, relevance, and also joy of mathematics to our students — wonder, awe, valuable use, push-ups and also all. Your talents are remarkable, lock strive because that the best for ours students, and also all is because that mighty good.

Three End-Notes

1. Just to finish my thoughts. Prize a) would perturb me also if the Minister stuck to that prize after part consideration. And answer b) would certainly disappoint me. Sure, cute mnemonik are without doubt cute, yet they space superficial and usually don’t tend to deal with any problem of structure or meaning.

2. Together a mathematician i balk at the idea of even getting the two staying angle sum formulas in my head: castle are just not beautiful! I thank Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler who, two-and-a-half centuries ago, uncovered a stunning formula that essentially reduces the whole study that trigonometric relationships to the strength of a single special number e. I have actually only that one beautiful formula readily in my brain.

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3. I attached to just a sparse variety of internet pieces around the function of memorization in the math classroom, far from representative the the full variety of content in debate. Your own net search top top the issue will easily reveal so much more.