The Great Math Facts Debate: Should You Be Teaching Math Facts?

The Great Math Facts Debate: Should You Be Teaching Math Facts?

The question is whether our students should memorize basic math facts or if we should spend time working on computational math. Do we teach our elementary students songs about number families and rhymes so that they can remember their math facts? Or should we drill them about basic facts with flash cards? Or do we teach our students ways to compute facts in their heads quickly? Is there a right or wrong approach or perhaps something in the middle? There are strong opinions on both sides, but neither is wrong, and I believe you can find a happy middle ground between math fact fluency and computational fluency in engaging ways.



Math facts are basic facts in all four math operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Math fluency is the ability to quickly recall these basic facts that have been memorized by students instead of having to figure out the equations and the right answer every time. When these math facts are in the students’ brains, it provides a building block to continue constructing mathematical knowledge throughout the rest of school and into adult life.



Instead of counting on fingers, drawing pictures, or counting out plastic bears, math fact fluency focuses on remembering basic facts. With repeated practice, facts are stored in long-term memory, a place from where they can be recalled at any time.

Computational fluency in math is the ability to determine the answer to a mathematical computation quickly. This can be done with memorized basic math facts or knowing how to find the answer quickly. For instance, finding the solution to an addition or subtraction problem that requires regrouping without pencils, paper, or calculators would be a sign of computational fluency in math.



Perhaps you were taught songs or rhymes to remember addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division math facts. I was. The one that I remember best is multiples of 8, my favorite being “8 times 8 is 64; shut the door and say no more!” I remember some rhymes better than others, and sometimes I still have to think about the facts I learned so long ago, but I do not forget that 8×8=64.

The trouble with old-school memorization is simply that we were memorizing math facts. I remember the rhymes, songs, and poems much better than if any of my teachers showed me examples of the math facts and the patterns they create. Hopefully, none of my teachers read this and accused me of daydreaming that day, but I don’t remember being shown anything like a physical example of math facts. As a teacher, I have always tried to show my students an array, counting bears, some kind of graph, or number line to help illustrate the basic math facts.

Math fact fluency is essential, but with that said, simply math fact memorization is not enough. Our students must see, experience, and understand math facts instead of learning silly rhymes and songs. Silly rhymes and songs help, don’t get me wrong, but we need something more for our students to understand basic facts instead of simply memorizing them.


Finding the best way to increase math facts fluency can be daunting, especially in the modern era. New concepts to help students become math fact whizzes involve utilizing math problems, number talks, and computer games. 


Subsequent number talks help students connect math ideas and practice further math skills. Lastly, computer games are a great way for students to focus on math facts in an engaging and competitive environment promoting more profound understanding and fluency. Together these 3 key components create a holistic approach that fosters increased math fact fluency.


Instead of simply having students memorize basic math facts or doing timed tests as we did as kids, teach your students how to find and understand the patterns in a fun way.

  1. Hands-on experience understanding addition and subtraction in basic math facts. Our students’ conceptual understanding of basic math needs to touch and see the math facts to understand, in addition to learning the rhymes. By having students work on math problems daily, they gain an understanding of math skills in a more informal setting, allowing math facts and concepts to be refreshed continuously. They all fit together to develop long-term memory fluency.
  2. Begin to memorize facts. Once students have a basci understanding of number sense, it is time to begin memorizing those math facts for quick recall. This will help with an overall fact mastery so that they can understand more advanced math concepts.
  3. Apply memorized math facts to new math challenges. When students work on memorizing math facts, they can quickly recall those facts on more challenging math assignments and build as they grow.
  4. Perform daily number talks to help with math facts. A number Talk is a 10-minute activity designed to elicit multiple strategies and provide opportunities for students to reason about the relationships in the numbers and make connections in mathematics. Introducing a new fact family daily would be great to start your math instruction.
  5. Use technology to help teach math facts. Technology can be a great way to help teach math facts. With the right apps, students can more easily and quickly identify the correct answer without relying solely on slow rote memorization. Technology can also help students develop their problem solving skills as students practice applying the knowledge they obtain from problems to the real world. This is often a great way to save a lot of time in the classroom since students don’t have to focus on basic facts and can instead move on to more complex concepts earlier on.


Short answer: Yes. By learning basic math facts, your students develop math fact fluency, where they can recall basic facts through long-term memory. The most significant difference in teaching math facts nowadays is that you need examples, hands-on experience, memorization, and the ability to apply math knowledge to new math challenges. Our students must understand the basic facts they are learning and memorizing instead of simply remembering seemingly random information. Set your students up for success with math fact fluency!


Here is a significant intervention to help math students with basic facts. Expose your students to variety of ways of learning facts with Discrete Trial Training.


Here are some digital games you can use in your classroom to help with fact fluency…

Addition Facts

Subtraction Facts

Multiplication Facts

Division Facts


Math fact fluency practice is the building block for understanding math concepts. Knowing how to automatically recognize and recall core skills can help students confidently tackle more complex concepts. Teaching math facts involves repetition and ensuring that comprehension is tested in multiple ways. Regarding math facts instruction, activities should focus on visual recognition, building mastery through meaningful practice and timed drills, memorizing patterns and math facts mnemonics, problem-solving, alternative problem-solving methods, and teaching basic number fact strategy. 


Children can form stronger number sense while developing automaticity skills with an approach focused on these areas. Making up tricks or games that encourage your child to apply their current level of knowledge will help them rapidly progress to the next grade level in no time! Dive into some of these activities mentioned in this blog to help you get started, so your child can soar above those pesky math facts!

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