Multiplication Is Not Repeated Addition: Update

Multiplication Is Not Repeated Addition: Update[Photo “Micah and Multiplication” by notnef via Flickr (CC-BY 2.0).]

Some Internet topics are evergreen. I noticed that my old Multiplication Is Not Repeated Addition post has been getting new traffic lately, so I read through the article again. And realized that, even after all those words, I still had more to say.

So I added the following update to clarify what seemed to me the most important point.

I’d love to hear your thoughts! The comment section is open down below . . .


Language Does Matter

Addition: addend + addend = sum. The addends are interchangeable. This is represented by the fact that they have the same name.

Multiplication: multiplier × multiplicand = product. The multiplier and multiplicand have different names, even though many of us have trouble remembering which is which.

  • multiplier = “how many or how much”
  • multiplicand = the size of the “unit” or “group”

Different names indicate a difference in function. The multiplier and the multiplicand are not conceptually interchangeable. It is true that multiplication is commutative, but (2 rows × 3 chairs/row) is not the same as (3 rows × 2 chairs/row), even though both sets contain 6 chairs.

A New Type of Number

In multiplication, we introduce a totally new type of number: the multiplicand. A strange, new concept sits at the heart of multiplication, something students have never seen before.

The multiplicand is a this-per-that ratio.

A ratio is a not a counting number, but something new, much more abstract than anything the students have seen up to this point.

A ratio is a relationship number.

In addition and subtraction, numbers count how much stuff you have. If you get more stuff, the numbers get bigger. If you lose some of the stuff, the numbers get smaller. Numbers measure the amount of cookies, horses, dollars, gasoline, or whatever.

The multiplicand doesn’t count the number of dollars or measure the volume of gasoline. It tells the relationship between them, the dollars per gallon, which stays the same whether you buy a lot or a little.

By telling our students that “multiplication is repeated addition,” we dismiss the importance of the multiplicand. But until our students wrestle with and come to understand the concept of ratio, they can never understand multiplication.

For Further Investigation

nunes-doingmathIf you’re interested in digging deeper into how children learn addition and multiplication, I highly recommend Terezina Nunes and Peter Bryant’s book Children Doing Mathematics.

To learn about modeling multiplication problems with bar diagrams, check out the Mad Scientist’s Ray Gun model of multiplication:

And here is an example of the multiplication bar diagram in action:


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Memorizing the Math Facts

Central City Times Tables[Photo by dsb nola via flickr.]

The most effective and powerful way I’ve found to commit math facts to memory is to try to understand why they’re true in as many ways as possible. It’s a very slow process, but the fact becomes permanently lodged, and I usually learn a lot of surrounding information as well that helps me use it more effectively.

Actually, a close friend of mine describes this same experience: he couldn’t learn his times tables in elementary school and used to think he was dumb. Meanwhile, he was forced to rely on actually thinking about number relationships and properties of operations in order to do his schoolwork. (E.g. I can’t remember 9×5, but I know 8×5 is half of 8×10, which is 80, so 8×5 must be 40, and 9×5 is one more 5, so 45. This is how he got through school.) Later, he figured out that all this hard work had actually given him a leg up because he understood numbers better than other folks. He majored in math in college and is now a cancer researcher who deals with a lot of statistics.

Ben Blum-Smith
Comment on Math Mama’s post What must be memorized?

The entire discussion (article and comments) is well worth reading:

You may also enjoy:


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Most Difficult Math Fact in the Whole Times Table

7-8 sign

Happy Multiplication Day!

For help learning the Times Table facts, check out my multiplication blog post series:

Encourage your family to play with math every day:


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Review Game: Once Through the Deck

Ace of Spades

[Feature photo above by Shannon (shikiro famu) via Flicker (CC BY 2.0).]

Math Concepts: basic facts of addition, multiplication.
Players: one.
Equipment: one deck of math cards (poker- or bridge-style playing cards with the face cards and jokers removed).

The best way to practice the math facts is through the give-and-take of conversation, orally quizzing each other and talking about how you might figure the answers out. But occasionally your child may want a simple, solitaire method for review.

Continue reading Review Game: Once Through the Deck

Math Games with Factors, Multiples, and Prime Numbers

factor game

Students can explore prime and non-prime numbers with two free favorite classroom games: The Factor Game (pdf lesson download) or Tax Collector. For $15-20 you can buy a downloadable file of the beautiful, colorful, mathematical board game Prime Climb. Or try the following game by retired Canadian math professor Jerry Ameis:

Factor Finding Game

FactorFindingGame

Math Concepts: multiples, factors, composite numbers, and primes.
Players: only two.
Equipment: pair of 6-sided dice, 10 squares each of two different colors construction paper, and the game board (click the image to print it, or copy by hand).

On your turn, roll the dice and make a 2-digit number. Use one of your colored squares to mark a position on the game board. You can only mark one square per turn.

  • If your 2-digit number is prime, cover a PRIME square.
  • If any of the numbers showing are factors of your 2-digit number, cover one of them.
  • BUT if there’s no square available that matches your number, you lose your turn.

The first player to get three squares in a row (horizontal, vertical, or diagonal) wins. Or for a harder challenge, try for four in a row.


Feature photo at top of post by Jimmie via flickr (CC BY 2.0). This game was featured in the Math Teachers At Play (MTaP) math education blog carnival: MTaP #79. Hat tip: Jimmie Lanley.

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Reblog: A Mathematical Trauma

fraction pieces

Feature photo (above) by Jimmie via flickr.

My 8-year-old daughter’s first encounter with improper fractions was a bit more intense than she knew how to handle.

I hope you enjoy this “Throw-back Thursday” blast from the Let’s Play Math! blog archives:


Photo (right) by Old Shoe Woman via Flickr.

Nearing the end of Miquon Blue today, my youngest daughter encountered fractions greater than one. She collapsed on the floor of my bedroom in tears.

The worksheet started innocently enough:

\frac{1}{2} \times 8=\left[ \quad \right]

[Click here to go read the original post.]


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Multiplication Models Card Game

Multiplication Matching Cards

[Poster by Maria Droujkova of NaturalMath.com. This game was originally published as part of the Homeschooling with a Profound Understanding of Fundamental Mathematics Series.]

Homeschooling parents know that one of the biggest challenges for any middle-elementary math student is to master the multiplication facts. It can seem like an unending task to memorize so many facts and be able to pull them out of mental storage in any order on demand.

Too often, we are tempted to stress the rote aspect of such memory work, which makes our children lose their focus on what multiplication really means. Before practicing the times table facts, make sure your student gets plenty of practice recognizing and using the common models for multiplication.

To help your children see what multiplication looks like in real life, explore the multitude of Multiplication Models collected at the Natural Math website. Or try some of the hands-on activities in the Family Multiplication Study.

You may want to pick up this poster and use it for ideas as you play the Tell Me a (Math) Story game. Word problems are important for children learning any new topic in math, because they give children a mental “hook” on which to hang the abstract number concepts.

And for extra practice, you can play my free card game…

Click here to continue reading.