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Please Settle An Argument About Learning Tables By Rote

(55 Posts)
Kendodd Mon 01-Sep-14 10:37:10

I think it's not important at all to learn this, my friend thinks it's essential.

My reasons are that it takes seconds to work out, it's not going to hold you up in life. If you learn by rote you are not doing maths, you are just memorising a rhyme or a table, you don't have to understand it. Knowing it by rote might disguise the fact that you don't understand them. It is much more important to be able to work it out, if you can work it out this skill doesn't stop at twelve, admittedly it does gets harder the higher you go. Is there also an argument that if you will keep having to work it out you are exercising your brain?

Her reasons are that having instant recall is essential as people (maybe employers) are not going to be impressed if you can't do this. You can't remember it if you don't understand it anyway (I disagree) so it can't hide the fact you don't understand it. It's good to get children to work at remembering things and teachers think they should learn it and they should know more than us (agreed). She's useless and maths and would be lost if she'd never learned it all by rote (her words). If you have to work it out you're more likely to get it wrong.

I know both arguments for and against have some merit. If you had to come down on one side though what would you say? Is it really essential to know them and should I be making sure my children do this? As I said, personally I would rather they worked it out each time and kept those skills alive.

Neither if us are teachers so have no training or understanding on the theory behind learning tables by rote.

scaevola Mon 01-Sep-14 10:42:59

It is a rare person who can work out every sum in all their tables to 12 'in seconds' (and if they can do it they might be remembering the result from previous calculation because that is easier and more efficient than reworking the same sum every time)

Yes, chanting tables is an exercise in rote learning (a useful skill in itself, as sometime you do have to just learn stuff). But the aim is not so you can recite them perfectly, but so you can do harder arithmetic and maths without having to stop and calculate a minor bit.

morethanpotatoprints Mon 01-Sep-14 12:38:07

I learned all my times tables during year 3 like all my peers at school did.
We learned by rote and practised saying them out loud, one a day, everyday.
I am dyslexic and have struggled with numbers all my life, but learning this way at least gave me one less thing to have to think about when applying a times table to something.
I think that children should learn them at home/school with their own learning style. A friend applied various tricks to help, but they didn't make it easier for me at all.

Girlwithnotattoos Mon 01-Sep-14 12:41:41

I second the opinion that learning tables by rote does make things easier as maths gets harder plus it makes complex sums easier to manage by splitting them up. eg 23 x 12 if you already know that 11 x 12 = 132 and 12 x 12 = 144

If you had to count up 23 lots of 12 in your head it would take ages.

Plus the reason why so many adults cannot work out simple percentages such as 25% off is because they don't know their tables and therefore they find division even by a low number impossible.

rocketjam Mon 01-Sep-14 12:46:18

The thing is, there is not 'one way' to learn times tables.
First you can use tools (such as Numicons, or other counters) to explain how multiplication work. This can start very young, such as putting things in pairs (a pair of shoes is 2X1 shoe) and two hands (2X5 fingers=10 fingers).

Then, you can just hang on a wall, fridge, wherever, a poster of times tables for the children to look at, know it exists, be interested and curious about it.

Then you can learn to double all numbers, count in twos, tens, etc.

Learning by rote comes later than all the above. It's useful, and has its reasons to exist, but learning by rope without understand what it means is not very useful.

tabulahrasa Mon 01-Sep-14 12:49:23

I don't know my times tables because I moved schools a couple of times and yes it's a PITA actually.

I need to write down fairly simple sums because I have to do weird additions and subtractions from the tables I do know (the easy ones, 0, 1, 2, 5 and 10).

I went back to college and to uni as an adult and had to do maths at a higher level than I had done at school and things like geometry are really really hard when you can't multiply and divide easily.

NCISaddict Mon 01-Sep-14 12:55:09

I didn't learn my tables by rote as our school was trialing new ways of learning and it is a real pain, working things out in shops, percentages etc are all much more difficult.

At my primary school, if we had finished our maths before the rest of the group, we had to turn to the back of our exercise books and write out our times tables. I was pretty good at maths, so I wrote mine out a lot - and whilst I don't have them committed to memory in the 'one times two is two, two times two is four, three times two is six' way, I can work out times tables very quickly, when I have to, and I have always found this very useful.

crazykat Mon 01-Sep-14 12:58:39

It makes it easier and quicker to work other sums out, especially when there is a time limit on tests/exams.

Lonecatwithkitten Mon 01-Sep-14 13:02:29

Learning your times tables by rote allows an instant estimate of whether a calculation is correct.
I regularly calculate myself and oversee the calculations of others for complex drug infusions. Most of our syringes for the drivers are 60mls in volume if the answering is not compatible with the 6 times table I don't need to go through the calculation it s wrong.
Anaesthetic doses 4mg per Kg there fore must work in 4 times tables.
Even very highly qualified staff can't have this instant judgement if they don't know their times tables.
If you want any kind of scientific career it is a huge advantage.

ZenNudist Mon 01-Sep-14 13:07:10

Yes it's essential. Maths improves by repetition. You can't do long multiplication without knowing times tables. What are you going to do: add up 4 lots of 6 or just know its 24?

Mental maths is important. I always judge the people who work for me if they struggle with it.

cingolimama Mon 01-Sep-14 13:11:07

Rote! If a child doesn't have instant recall of times tables they will really struggle to do anything more complex later in their schooling.

I don't understand your resistance, OP. IMO there's far far too much talk of mathematical "concepts" in primary school, and at the end of the day, kids need to know that 9 X 9 = 81, as a fact - they don't actually need the painful nine groupings of nine little doughnuts etc.

addictedtosugar Mon 01-Sep-14 13:13:47

I don;t think rote learning is essential: being able to chant a song is nice, but not essential.

Instant recall is whats needed.

cingolimama Mon 01-Sep-14 13:25:16

Addicted - how do you get instant recall without some degree of rote learning?

You can do rote learning of times tables without those silly songs, which just delay learning the facts.

RunAwayHome Mon 01-Sep-14 13:44:12

For children who are really good at maths, it's not absolutely essential, because they can work them out quickly, and do not get put off whatever else they are trying to learn whilst they do it. I have taught very able mathematicians who were dyslexic and struggled with instant recall of their tables, but were fine, particularly as the emphasis moved from arithmetic (especially mental) to more abstract mathematical concepts.

For children who are less good, it is a HUGE help to have instant recall. It is so useful when working with fractions, when estimating large numbers, when doing algebra, etc. , to just have the answers to the simple calculations to hand, without having to take a sidestep to calculate them, and then forget what they were doing, why they were trying to divide that bit in the first place, etc. - instead they can just follow the logic of the algebra problem or doing whatever they were doing with the fractions, etc.

There's so much that can be done more simply when you recognise instantly the factors and multiples that are involved in a problem - and you don't get that nearly so easily when you work out specific answers to calculations each time. It is not like the main use of times tables is to answer specific questions like 8x4 on a times table test. If that were all, then yes, be able to just work it out really quickly, would probably be enough for a lot of children. But it's not.

It also just helps a lot to help you see patterns in things. You start to notice which numbers come up a lot; you notice that the numbers in one triangle happen to be 3 times bigger than the ones in that one, and it give you clues how to solve some other thing, etc., - it's that level of familiarity that is useful, rather than someone saying 'tell me 8x3 instantly'. Division is especially helpful to know by rote when it comes to doing fractions etc., just that easy familiarity of recognising whether something is a multiple of something else, whether things are in the same times table, etc. And just generally, all the pattern recognition that comes from tables can then help in further understanding of maths in general - I remember discovering myself lots of things that are sometimes taught overtly nowadays as mental strategies, but I just started noticing them from having practiced and known my tables. That made me love numbers and how they all fit together.

RunAwayHome Mon 01-Sep-14 13:45:48

but of course, children should ALSO have the skills to work out a calculation, so that they can easily do the ones that they haven't got memorised (but in my experience, this is usually taught quite well, as a mental strategy). And before anything else, the child does have to understand what multiplication IS, and use calculation strategies is often a very valuable first step in doing that - there's no point memorising tables with no understanding of what it means.

Kendodd Mon 01-Sep-14 14:15:07

It is a rare person who can work out every sum in all their tables to 12 'in seconds'


it's dead easy and there are loads of different ways to work it out.

atticusclaw Mon 01-Sep-14 14:19:24

I agree with everyone else. You need these facts at your fingertips. It helps massively as maths gets more difficult and quite honestly its not hard to learn them so why wouldn't you.

You seem to be implying that because I know that 6x6 is 36 I don't know that it means six groups of six.

There may well be loads of ways to work out a sum but there are loads more ways if you know your times tables.

Hakluyt Mon 01-Sep-14 14:25:47

I think it depends. If you are good at maths, and naturally confident with numbers, then knowing your tables is less important. If you aren't, and worry about numbers, then knowing your tables really well is vital. It's one less thing to worry about if you know for certain that 7 times 8 is 56 rather than having to work it out every time.

Hakluyt Mon 01-Sep-14 14:27:20

Oops, cross posted with loads of people who know more about it than I do!

JassyRadlett Mon 01-Sep-14 14:30:12

Ken, will you share your methods?

tabulahrasa Mon 01-Sep-14 14:36:07

'it's dead easy and there are loads of different ways to work it out.'

I cope multiplying with working it out in different ways...but dividing is hard because it involves a certain amount of trial and error instead of just knowing which times table a number is in or close to.

Flexibilityisquay Mon 01-Sep-14 14:43:11

I certainly find maths easier because I know my times tables. I would find it a lot more difficult to mentally have to work out every sum in my head every time. It means I can skip labourious workings out, and saves time and effort. I will be doing my best to make sure DS learns his.

atticusclaw Mon 01-Sep-14 16:26:58

For anyone struggling with this for their DCs can I recommend Timezattack. its a computer game which teaches children their tables. Its fab and DS has learnt all of his over the summer holidays using the game, in fact he's playing it as I type. He's only just seven and knows every sum in the tables instantly.

sashh Mon 01-Sep-14 16:27:17

I can recite tables, but I don't trust them, I have to work them out as well - maybe just me.

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