“When Have You Ever…”

I just have a question for you (and I know some of us “in” the basement…pun intended…are as old as dirt so I will understand if it takes you longer to “remember” or “recall” if this has ever happened to you).  “When have you ever been asked to get out of a check-out line by the cashier at the grocery store because you couldn’t figure out as fast as you possibly could how much your total grocery bill would be ?”  Ok, let me explain why I wonder about this.  When I go to the grocery store, I sometimes just need a few items and sometimes I actually have some cash to pay the grocery bill.  So, as I place my groceries on the conveyor belt and the cashier proceeds to scan the items for the price, I calculate the approximate total grocery bill to confirm whether I can pay with cash or not.  For example, I might have 1 item @ ~ 2.00 and 3 items @ $3.00 and 7 items @ 80₵, etc.  I don’t “remember” a single instance where I have needed to do this mental arithmetic as fast as humanly possible or if I couldn’t do it fast “enough” that I was asked to go the back of the grocery check-out line so that I could get a “second attempt” at doing this arithmetic faster and customers who could do this arithmetic faster could go to the front of the check-out line for all other customers in line to see.

So, I noticed a couple of years ago when I was visiting a third grade classroom, the paper below was being sent home to parents and I wondered why being fast at math facts is emphasized instead of being fluent with math facts.

And, I noticed with my own child how being fast (100% on timed test) with math facts in third grade didn’t always pay off in remembering math facts in later grade levels (77 % in 5th & 95% in 6th) and I wonder how fast my child might be today with these same math facts (I think I know what my child is going to do tonight when he gets home from school…I’ll let you know the results).

I recall reading a very interesting article titled “Fluency Without Fear: Research Evidence on the Best Ways to Learn Math Facts” written by Jo Boaler and Cathy Williams (found at https://www.youcubed.org/fluency-without-fear/).  Boaler and Williams noticed, “in order to learn to be a good English student, to read and understand novels, or poetry, students need to have memorized the meanings of many words.  But no English student would say or think that learning about English is about the fast memorization and fast recall of words” and the authors wondered, “why is mathematics treated differently?”

I encourage you to read their article (please do not feel as though you must read it as fast as humanly possible because as we might agree, English is not about fast memorization or recall of words) and let us know what you notice and wonder.

– Gay