Does knowing times tables matter?
When asked, 'Does knowing times tables matter?', my answer is unequivocally 'Yes!'
But this is too simplistic a response as there is so much more that is equally important if we want our girls to be great mathematicians.
I argue that good mathematicians are seen to possess four attributes:
1. Fluency with basic mathematics facts to a point of automaticity. This is essential if one is to have sufficient brain capacity remaining for the higher order investigating. Pete Persistence is the girls' greatest friend here, as although this is not the exciting and fun part of maths, it is essential that each girl is able to automatically recall the basic number facts, including times tables, pertinent to the content being covered.
2. Conceptual understanding is essential too as pure rote learning does not allow for insightful thinking and the transfer of knowledge to different contexts. For instance, girls need to know and be able to visualise that 2 x 3 is actually about two groups of three being added together to give the answer of six. This understanding needs to be learnt to a position of mastery where in any similar situation, the skills and knowledge of how to complete each sum is known without conscious effort. Again this is important for freeing up brain capacity for higher order thinking and meaningful application.
3. Problem-solving in mathematics is where the real fun is to be had. Again there is a range of nine problem-solving strategies that we explicitly teach to the girls. With fluency, conceptual understanding and problem solving strategies on board, then our girls are set to be successful in their mathematical endeavours.
4. However, I would also add one last attribute – that being the capacity to understand that mathematics is more than getting a right or wrong answer. In fact, there are often multiple ways in which a problem can be solved. You will attest to this when you try to show your daughter how you once solved such a question and are promptly told that your suggestion is unhelpful and unwanted.
We are keen for our girls to realise that a number of problem solving approaches are possible, yet one is probably less likely to produce errors and more efficient in reaching a solution. In this way we help our girls to walk away from perfectionist tendencies and to revel in the trial and error and multiple pathways to making sense and solving problems.