The days when teachers could simply answer “you won’t have a calculator everywhere you go” are firmly behind us. It is more than likely that you will have an electronic device around to solve maths problems whether it be a phone, tablet or laptop. In the past, the reasons for knowing the times tables off by heart were an obvious asset to everyday life and they still are even with a phone in your pocket. But why and how useful is it for children to be learning their times tables from an early age?
An Ofsted published study, which monitors schools, concluded that students without the ability to instantly recall multiplication tables generally struggled in maths.
There are a range of methods that can be used to teach times tables each of which has their own merits but the most important point is it must be ‘rigorous’
“It is really important that children have the tools of arithmetic at their fingertips.” Jean Humphrys, Ofsted’s Education director, told the Telegraph in 2011.
“Without that, it is like sending a plumber out to do a job without knowing how to use a spanner” she continued.
During the first primary years in which times tables are taught, songs and games are used to engage the children which help to encourage memorised learning. As the children progress and more complex numbers are introduced past 2, 5 and 10 the learning methods will become varied.
Working just to memorise the times tables might be the easiest way to learn the answers for instant recall, although some educators are against learning in this way. They do not say it is negative or useless but that less emphasis should be put on memorisation and speed as it may put undue anxiety and stress on children.
The ability to understand the way in which the numbers work and how they produce their results is important for applying the numbers when it comes to more complex equations.
For example, exploring the common nature between numbers so that the student can recognise the reason why 3 x 5 and 5 x 3 result in the same answer. In this way a child that can develop commutativity links and concepts between the two numbers will understand that the answer is 15, therefore will not need to memorise both 3 x 5 and 5 x 3.
This is not to say that memorising times tables should be neglected completely but should also be backed up by developing the knowledge and understanding of why the results occur.
Knowing the times tables is not the holy grail of maths but it is a big help and a useful tool for not only progressing in the subject but to help make quick decisions in future life.