Math Facts

We’ve talked about teaching math using real life applications. But this doesn’t mean that the nitty-gritty stuff is no longer important. Math facts are learned by rote memory at a fairly early age. They include “automatic” knowledge such as:

  • counting by 2’s
  • 4 + 1 = 5
  • 10 – 3 = 7
  • multiplication tables

Many adults who are struggling with math did not memorize these math facts when they were children. This now slows them down when they’re doing math, but it doesn’t mean that they can’t learn the concepts and get the right answers in the end. In general, children and adults use different brain pathways to learn new material. Children tend to be better at using their short term memory for rote learning. Adults favour long term memory and rely on learning through understanding concepts and patterns. So expecting your student to memorize all the times tables that she avoided in grade school may be pointless. It may be more practical to provide a few memory aids and to help her learn to use them effectively. Below are three examples.

Did anyone tell you when you were a kid that you shouldn’t use your fingers for counting? They did? They were wrong. We have 10 fingers (with any luck). We use the decimal system. There’s a connection there. For hands-on learners, using fingers for adding, subtracting, and even multiplying is an excellent and natural thing to do. You may have to help your student re-learn how to do this. Keep it simple and consistent if he finds it confusing.

Adding and Subtracting

Does your student have trouble adding and subtracting small numbers in his head? Draw a flight of stairs and number each step in ascending order. (Or select the one below and print it.) Teach him to add and subtract by ascending or descending the correct number of steps. This may plant a useful image in his imagination.

Multiplication and Division

Your student knows some multiplication tables but not all? Print out several copies of one of the  multiplication charts below and help her to fill it in. Together, look for patterns throughout the chart – in the 3x column you’re adding 3s, in the 4x column you’re adding 4s, etc. What patterns do you notice in the 9x column, the 11x column? She can refer to the chart whenever she’s unsure of the math facts. This chart can also be used for dividing.

10 x 10 Multiplication chart

12 x 12 Multiplication chart


Session 5 Index