Doing some reading I came upon this blog entry about our school system: School Year.
The author, Kateland, finds a lot of problems with our current school system and the way it is going. She singles out the Ministry of Education as being the major cause of the problem. Without agreeing or disagreeing with her assessment of the Ministry, I would like to look at one of her thoughts.
Here is one of her comments: "Apparently it is considered much improved to visualize a group of seven things filled with 8 items each and then count out the answer but I cannot imagine solving algebra equations when I do not know instantly that “X” times “Y” equals “N” without a moment’s thought."
As a Math teacher, I hear what she is saying, and certainly in the past many people have memorized their multiplication tables and learned to solve algebraic equations. But today anyone can do any multiplication on their calculator, or for most students, their cellphone, and I can teach people to solve algebraic equations using algebra tiles in a way that does not require knowledge of multiplication tables. So it does not seem necessary to me that we force all students to memorize their multiplication tables.
I want to be really clear here. I definitely recognize that for many students, memorizing multiplication tables will be useful. But education today has to be about trying to teach every student in the class in the best way possible. Teachers can no longer teach any skill just one way. We need to use all the tools at our disposal, multiplication tables, calculators, algebra tiles, computers, and more to find a way to teach students in ways that they will understand, value, and remember.
To me the key thing as a teacher is to recognize which students would really benefit from memorizing multiplication tables and which students will be fine doing everything on their calculators. Or who should learn to solve equations with algebra tiles and who will simply be faster with the old, more abstract way. That is what teaching has to be about in the new, flattening, globalized world.