kitchen table math, the sequel: math facts at The Key School

Monday, July 16, 2007

math facts at The Key School

Fluency with Basic Math Facts
September 11, 2006

The goal of timed tests is computational fluency: by this we mean quick and accurate knowledge of math facts. As has been said before to parents in earlier grade levels (and is worthy of repeating), automatic recall of basic math facts is desired because it frees up students’ minds for complex problem solving. To this end, fourth grade students will prepare for weekly timed tests. Below are the details.

What: Each timed tests consists of 50 problems to be completed in four minutes or less, although many students set personal goals of two minutes. Timed tests begin with subtraction facts (0-20) and, in the winter, move to multiplication facts (0-9).

When: Timed tests are given every Wednesday for the entire year. Students keep corrected timed tests in their math binders along with a chart of their progress.

How: We review study tips with students and provide work sheets for practice. Enclosed are strategies for subtraction and multiplication to help your child polish his or her math facts at home. Students can make flash cards of difficult math facts. Additionally, the Lower School’s math library has a variety of math aids available for home practice; materials may be borrowed for two weeks at a time.

The Key School is supposed to be one of the best private schools in the country. Based in what my friend who has two kids there tells me, it is.

Gary Carson said...

That part about freeing up students minds is just nonsense and shows a huge lack of understanding about how the mind works on the part of those from that school.

Basically what they're doing is encouraging students to fill up short term memory with trivial facts for easy retrevial, making retrevial of problem solving skills more difficult, not easier.

I don't have a lot of faith in the ability of that school if they believe the nonsense they put in their promo material.

SteveH said...

"Basically what they're doing is encouraging students to fill up short term memory with trivial facts for easy retrevial, making retrevial of problem solving skills more difficult, not easier."

The multiplication table is not in my short term memory, and it's surely not trivial. It's definitely not trivial to those who have to stop and think what 6 times 7 is. When I have to solve complicated problems, instant recall of basic facts makes life a lot easier.

This is not about taking up space in one's memory (short or long term). There is plenty of room. Its about not wasting time on facts that can and should be automatic. It's about high expectations versus low expectations.

Gary Carson said...

The approach may well work. But the idea that it works because it "frees up the students minds" is just nonsense.

SteveH said...

"frees up the students minds"

I've never been a big fan of that comment either. They should just say that it makes life easier in the long run.

Catherine Johnson said...

Automaticity frees working memory; that's what they're talking about.

That's correct.

Catherine Johnson said...

I was trying to figure out yesterday whether the concept of "short term memory" has been abandoned by cognitive science, whether it's been renamed as "working memory," or wether there's some other option on the menu.

As far as I can tell, it's a combination of both.

"Working memory" has replaced "short term memory" (I think) but working memory means something a bit different from short term memory.

Working memory includes a "search function," which is the faculty that locates and uses the relevant information (7x6 in this case) in longterm memory.

I'll try to see if Willingham has a good definition I can post.

The Dudai book is a little hard to follow.

Catherine Johnson said...

The Key school is incredible. My friend sent me copies of her son's 5th grade math homework.

It was far past anything kids here can do, and the parents weren't helping with homework. My friend was shocked when I told her kids here can't do their math homework without "assistance."

"Assistance" is the school's term for what we do, btw.