Mastery of Math Facts/Impact of Attention and Memory

A consistent mastery of math facts, such as multiplication tables, addition families, etc. is greatly influenced by the functions of attention and memory.

The Impact of Attention

The mental energy controls of attention get the ‘fuel’ to the brain that the learner needs. By maintaining concentration and sustaining a high level of mental energy, a student is able to "tune in" to the learning of math facts.

Then, using the processing controls of attention to effectively think about the new mathematical information (in this case, attending to details of number and sign), a student can build a repertoire of mastered facts.

Finally, the production controls of attention help the student recall and use math facts efficiently, for example, enabling a student not only to remember math facts, but to self-monitor for careless errors in the process.

The Impact of Memory

Long-term memory also plays an important role in the mastery and automatization of math facts. Often math facts are memorized and later called to mind as paired associations. For example, a student might learn the equation, "two times four" and the answer, "eight" as an associated pair. Thus, when he hears "two times four," he automatically associates and recalls the number "eight" as the missing half of the pair.

The ability to organize math facts as pairs, then to recall these pairs with ease is aided by a student’s long-term memory skills.

Here are some strategies to help students develop and strengthen their mastery of math facts.

Helpful Hints

  • Incorporate multi-sensory activities into the teaching and memorizing of math facts, i.e. have students write it, say or sing it, show it, do it, etc.
  • Use group rehearsal. For example, "Softly repeat each fact as I give it to you before writing it down."
  • Keep students’ optimal attention spans in mind. Plan short breaks when teaching and practicing math facts.
  • Give students who are inconsistent in their performance of math facts an advanced warning before calling on them (e.g., "In three minutes I am going to ask you to run through the multiplication tables for the number 5.").
  • Encourage students to use mid-task self-questioning during math computation activities, e.g., stopping to check calculations after each line.
  • Take advantage of students’ strengths when teaching math facts, e.g., use sounds, rhythm, and musical instruments to teach students with musical talents, use manipulables for those with strong spatial skills, etc.
  • Use multiple methods (e.g., flashcards, rhyming, rapping) to help students "over-learn" critical fact pairs. Have students work in teams, drilling each other on facts.
  • Provide jump-starts to help students get going, e.g., start one or more math problems, provide the first fact in a sequence, etc.
  • Let students use accommodations for facts that are not already automatic. For example, math fact tables may be kept on hand for reference during math activities. As math facts are mastered, remove the supportive prompts.
  • Use math fact tables as a learning and assessment tool. Have students fill in a partially completed table as a practice activity, and complete a blank table in order to identify which facts are automatic, which are known but not yet automatic, and which are still to be learned.
  • Give students plenty of positive reinforcement as their mastery of math facts improves and their recall becomes automatic.
  • Teach students to self-monitor their daily use of math facts. Provide checklists that list steps for self-checking, etc. to serve as a self-monitoring guide until the student internalizes the process and is able to self-check on his/her own.