Have You Ever Heard of the Math Ceiling Fairy?

By Inga Schoenbrun and Janice Graves, Math Specialists

Have you ever heard of the Math Ceiling Fairy? Many students’ eyes are glued to the ceiling anxiously awaiting the fairy’s appearance to give them the answer to math problems like 8×7. The fairy may be a figment of our imagination, but reliance on memorization is not. A recent article in Scientific American details research from Stanford University showing that an emphasis on memorization, rote procedures, and speed impairs learning and achievement in math.

At Langley, we strive to develop strategies that allow our students to use what they do know to figure out something they don’t. In the example of 8×7, a student might employ the double strategy: I know 4×7 is 28 and 8 groups is double 4 groups, so 8×7 is double 28 or 56! This student understands not only how to double numbers, but also the structure of multiplication as equal groups. Another student might realize they know 7×7 is 49, and simply add one more group of 7 to get 56.

Math at Langley

Students who recognize the effect operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) have on numbers are more adept at solving complex, multi-step problems. They construct concrete or pictoral models to illustrate the problems and allow themselves to take risks to solve problems using a variety of methods. Strategy-based learning leads to generative knowledge where memorization lends itself to temporal and compartmentalized learning.

Do we value math fact fluency? Absolutely we do. We are committed to building fluency hand in hand with number sense and mental math strategies. Listen closely as your child computes numbers and marvel at his or her creativity and efficiency. It just might surprise you.