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Memorization: Helpful or Harmful?

In this day and age, students spend a lot of time memorizing facts and figures, especially during their elementary school years.

In math classrooms across the country students are forced to memorize multiplication tables and do calculations quickly under timed pressure. Are these drills really helpful?

According to Stanford University’s Jo Boaler, teachers and parents need to stop using math flash cards and stop drilling students in multiplication and addition. Dreaded “Math Mondays” where teachers hand out quiz sheets with over 50 problems to be completed in less than a minute does not do much other than turn kids away from math.

Trying to drill students who do not understand the concepts is actually harmful for learning. Math facts should be learned through understanding them, not through straight memorization. Boaler’s study also shows that the lowest performing students in the world happen to be those who think that math is purely about memorization.

Another study shows that math sprints and repetitive worksheets are actually damaging to a child. When a student is put under timed pressure to finish a math worksheet that pressure often provokes anxiety. According to the University of Chicago, this anxiety blocks the working memory portion of a child’s brain, and over time this same anxiety decreases a student’s confidence. Due to this stress, we lose many students who have the creative minds that would excel at math if not faced with this rote memorization style of teaching.

So, what do you think? Should we stop with the daily math flashcards? Should we work with students to explain long division instead of just teaching them the process? Or, should we stay with the current math core standards and continue memorization?

 

–Chitra Kumar

3 Comments

  1. Shontai Tudor
    December 22, 2015

    We must begin to evaluate and execute a healthy balance between understanding concept and memorization. My era of schooling when we did nothing but drills and it made me excel due to my competitive spirit….the goal is to not make one size fit all but to compliment each learning style.

    • Brittany
      February 5, 2016

      I agree that we need to make an education tailored to fit a wide variety of students. I know from experience that our learning habits are different and we need to try to help all students in the best way that we possibly can so that we can get them to the highest learning potential for their next stage in life.

  2. Kerry
    February 17, 2016

    I think that in early education it is difficult for teachers to find a learning style to suit each individual student. This is something that just wouldn’t be possible for a teacher to do with class sizes as big as they are. While this would be the best for learning the material initially, I think memorization still can be the best way to get young students to know fundamental knowledge and skills.

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