Mastering Basic Number Facts FAQ

Printable Pamphlet on Mastering Basic Facts
Responses to Frequently Asked Questions
Links to resources and further reading

Credit: Janice Novakowski

Children learn mathematics to help them make better sense of the world around them, and to develop skills necessary in their lives. Being able to use mathematical knowledge to determine answers is important. Becoming confident and competent with mathematics, however, is more about doing than about knowing, and more about communicating one’s thinking than about stating the final answer. Mathematics education should therefore place a priority on the mathematical processesmathematical processes
the critical components that students must encounter in a mathematics program in order to achieve the goals of mathematics education, including communcation, connecting, mental math and estimation, problem solving, reasoning, using technology, visualization
shown to help students develop these skills. This is important to keep in mind when discussing how to teach and learn basic facts, which we define here as multiplication facts to 81 and addition facts to 18.

Below are short answers to some common questions that are also available as a downloadable pamphlet. For each one, you can see more detailed responses from a variety of teachers by clicking on the link below the answer.

Is knowing basic facts important for students to be successful in mathematics?

Yes. Students need to be computationally fluentcomputational fluency
knowing how a number can be composed and decomposed and using that information to be flexible and efficient with solving problems (Fosnot and Dolk, 2001)
with basic addition and multiplication facts. However, computational fluency includes much more than recalling the facts. To become computationally fluent, successful students learn when and how to use the facts. Good number sense leads to knowledge of basic facts, but memorizing basic facts does not necessarily lead to number sense. Strategies that focus on understanding are useful because they help to develop number sense; they give learners a solid foundation from which to explore more complex mathematics.

Do students need to memorize basic facts to learn them?

Recall of facts is important and expected; however, recall of basic facts developed from memorization alone does not help to develop the number sense that is required to solve problems. To have true mastery and robust recall of basic facts, students need to have efficient strategies. If facts learned through memorization are forgotten, students have no strategies to compute a result because memorization doesn’t lead to number sense. Although rote memorization can lead to recall for some students, for many students it leads to anxiety and/or a dislike of mathematics. This is especially true when recall of basic facts is timed.

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Why does my child have to learn more than one way? This seems confusing and overwhelming.

“Learning more than one way” should not mean memorizing more than one way, nor should it be confusing and overwhelming. Rather, students need time to explore, connect, and understand different strategies to make sense of mathematical concepts. Exploring multiple strategies helps students to develop mathematical thinking, communication skills, confidence, and an appreciation for mathematics. Familiarity with a variety of strategies is essential when a particular strategy does not make sense. Developing flexible strategies helps connect better to future learning of mathematical concepts.

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How might I support my child at home to master the basic number facts?

  • Ask your child if they can describe how they determined an answer or if they can think of another way to find an answer.
  • Play games and solve puzzles where basic facts are part of the game play or the score keeping. (examples: Cribbage, Kakuro).
  • Ask numerical questions about daily life (examples: cooking, sports, money).

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Links and Reading