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.
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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.

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I’ve started collecting quotes about teaching math for the chapter pages in my next Math You Can Play book. Here are a couple snippets that don’t fit the theme of “Multiplication & Fractions,” but they struck my fancy anyway:

If teachers would only encourage guessing. I remember so many of my math teachers telling me that if you guess, it shows that you don’t know. But in fact there is no way to really proceed in mathematics without guessing. You have to guess! You have to have intuitive judgment as to the way it might go. But then you must be willing to check your guess. You have to know that simply thinking it may be right doesn’t make it right.

One of the big misapprehensions about mathematics that we perpetrate in our classrooms is that the teacher always seems to know the answer to any problem that is discussed. This gives students the idea that there is a book somewhere with all the right answers to all of the interesting questions, and that teachers know those answers. And if one could get hold of the book, one would have everything settled. That’s so unlike the true nature of mathematics.

Do you have some favorite quotes on math and teaching? I’d love to hear them! Please share in the Comments section below.

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Teacher calls out numbers consecutively, starting at 0.

When a student hears their number being called they immediately raise a hand. When the teacher tags the hand, they stand up.

If more than one hand was raised, those students lose. They become your helpers, tagging raised hands.

If only one hand was raised, that child wins the round.

“Each game takes about 45 seconds,” Hamilton says. “This is part of the key to its success. Children who have not learned the art of losing are quickly thrown into another game before they have a chance to get sad.”

The experience of mathematics should be profound and beautiful. Too much of the regular K-12 mathematics experience is trite and true. Children deserve tough, beautiful puzzles.

What are the best numbers to pick? Patrick Vennebush hosted on online version of the game at his Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks blog a few years back, though we didn’t have to bend over into rocks—which is a good thing for some of us older folks.

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Want to help your kids learn math? Claim your free 24-page problem-solving booklet, and sign up to hear about new books, revisions, and sales or other promotions.

Get in the math car with a list of destinations and no map. Take whatever route you want, and marvel at the things you discover along the way.

— Nick Harris

Wednesday Wisdom features a quote to inspire my fellow homeschoolers and math education peeps. Today’s quote is from @Mr_Harris_Math, via Twitter. Background photo courtesy of Forrest Cavale (CC0 1.0) via Unsplash.

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