Mathematics

Learn how to do math in your head.

Is it important to understand math facts?

Many professions require simple mathematical skills, from entry-level positions to high-level positions. Carpenters use math all the time to decide how long a board needs to be. They need to know where to make cuts to create the least amount of waste. Builders calculate the area of a room for such things as ceiling tiles and carpet. Retail checkout employees need to be able to understand percentages to figure out how much to discount the original price when there is a sale. Engineers, accountants, optometrists, and pharmacists are a few of many professions that require higher-level math skills. Being good at math allows the student to have a full array of opportunities when choosing a future career. 

The goal of math is to solve problems; however, when we look at the problems that are being solved, we must understand that math is about measuring space in many different ways. Numbers are used to represent different amounts of space. To make this easy for learning the basics, we will only be using linear examples of math. This means that the amount of space represented by each number is the same and the distance between (or the space between) numbers is always equal.

Learning math facts is simply a memorization activity and is not really math. Automaticity is used for this memorization skill. Using numbers does not always equal the building of math concepts. To build math concepts one must understand what numbers represent and then learn how to manipulate them to measure or calculate the space they occupy. 

Note that, indeed, math facts are important. They help students complete math homework in a shorter amount of time. During math tests the student can focus on the actual problem instead of taking longer to figure out a math fact. Knowing math facts also helps to do math problems in your head.

Automaticity is the ability to complete a task with minimal effort and little thought. For example, when driving to work the same way every day, you go into an automatic mode. You stop at the lights when they are red and go when they are green. When you get to work, it is difficult to remember if you stopped or not, and you remember little about the drive if it was uneventful. You drove safely in an automatic mode. Another example is when you are very good at a sport and are playing and making goals without thinking and little effort. You are playing “in the zone”, and you are using automaticity. When you learn to drive a stick shift car, each action is thought through and takes effort. After getting good at working a stick shift transmission, you do not have to think of the parts. Automaticity allows for the child to memorize math facts without effort. 

Memorization of math facts helps save time when taking higher-level math classes such as algebra, geometry, and calculus. Knowing the answer to a math fact makes valuable homework time shorter. Doing math in one’s head quickly is a good skill to develop at an early age. By the time my son got to high school, he was quite good at doing math in his head. When his sister asked to borrow his calculator for algebra, He said, “I don’t have one.” Hearing this, I asked him, “You are taking tenth-grade geometry! How do you do your homework without a calculator?” His response was that he just did the calculations in his head. Today he has a Master’s degree in petroleum engineering.

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