The benchmarks for learning math facts in the Common Core State Standards are clear:
By the end of Kindergarten know all sums and differences to 5.
By the end of First Grade know all sums and differences to 10.
By the end of Second Grade know all sums and differences to 20.
By the end of Third Grade know all products and quotients to 100.
That is a tall order!
Last spring as I sat with a student who was painfully trying to learn his x8 and x9 facts, I had a bit of an epiphany about math facts and the difficulty of learning them.
When math facts are taught using only 1 method (such as flashcards or time tests), they aren’t connected to anything in the student’s real life. We rely on basic repetition and the ability to recall this isolated thing. We would never do that with spelling words.
Think about word study, reading and spelling. Words are EVERYWHERE. They are in front of us every waking moment of the day. Our brains connect letter patterns, word clusters and we read them constantly. Where do you ever see math facts? I mean truly, where do you ever see a math fact out in public?
Words are everywhere. Math facts, not so much.
I am not entirely sure what the answer is, but I think we need to recognize this so that we are more sympathetic to students when they find difficulty in learning them. I think we need to connect them to their lives as much as possible, present them with multiple ways of learning them and give them strategies so that they can see the awesome patterns that are present in math facts.