Memorization nets little retention in teaching math skills


EDMOND, OK — Do flashcards add up to success in school? For mom Tracy Spanier it’s a no-brainer.  She’s got a fully stocked study room for homework and skill drills.

“I feel it’s very important for elementary children to learn their math facts and their spelling so when they get older their testing is easier they test better it builds self confidence.”

For a long time memorization has been used as a key tool of the trade for education.  Now some are saying “hey wait a minute” there may be a better way.

Dr. Kelly Baker from UCO believes many of the things memorized in school are off course.

“We are doing children a great disservice when we engage them in education that focuses on memorization to the exclusion of thinking. Obviously the biggest offenders to me in early childhood are spelling words, math facts, geography – all of geography.”

Baker says “no” to math time tests

“There are many studies about the math anxiety that we’ve created for many children,” Dr. Baker says.

She says rote memorization nets little retention.

“We forget those things if they’re just learned for the sake of the test.”

Neurologist Judy Willis of Edutopia goes even further saying that over-emphasis on rote memorization over-stresses the brain and detours our thinking away from the ‘rational, pre-frontal cortex’ where higher-order thinking occurs.

Casady School Headmaster Chris Bright said there is still an important place in for basics.

“I think that’s wrong headed. learning and higher learning builds on a hierarchical set of skills…and that starts with rote memorization.  You have to have a certain amount of working memory in order to understand and think critically.”

A study published in the journal Mathematical Cognition supports this.  It found that most errors made by students working on complex math problems were due to a lack of automaticity in basic math facts.

Do we need things like math facts in the age of technology?  Teri Brechen from the Oklahoma Department of Education believes kids increased dependence on gizmos isn’t all bad.

“I think the children are recalling a lot.  Just to be able to use technology you’re recalling a lot.”

Edutopia’s Willis also believes within five to ten years in some countries, Internet use for info will be allowed on standardized tests which will greatly reduce the need for memorization.

An ever-changing landscape that Brechen said she hopes educators take into account.

“We have to look at the kids and say what’s the best thing to do and not just stick with what we’ve always done,” Teri Brechen says.