The Alphabet of Mathematics

Written by Paul Shoecraft, Ph.D., University of Houston

This is how most of us were taught mathematics. This is how traditional teachers continue to teach, despite widespread failure in elementary school mathematics, and despite the distressing number of remedial math courses in American high schools, colleges and universities. New and different methods of teaching mathematics must be employed.

Failure in mathematics begins with the number facts. We expect students to memorize all 390 of them to the point of instant recall – 100 for addition, 100 for subtraction, 100 for multiplication and 90 for division – and we expect them to do so FOREVER. Such a standard ensures failure for all but a handful of students. It foolishly denies the use-it-or-lose-it maxim that governs remembering and forgetting: What we use, we remember. What we don't, we forget.

Fact memorization favors auditory and visual learners. But what about tactile learners? Most at-risk and special education students are tactile learners. So are many CEOs for America's Fortune 500 companies. TouchMath's method of touching and counting on numerals to generate number facts is effective with all three major learning types: tactile, as well as auditory and visual.

What do traditionally-taught students do when they forget a number fact? Most guess, and too often they guess incorrectly. Some invent their own TouchMath method for figuring it out. They count as they nod their heads back and forth, tap their fingers on their desks or click their tongues against their teeth. Some count on lines they draw on their papers but erase afterwards so no one will know they used a "crutch."

The number facts are often referred to as the "basic" facts, and for good reason. They are exactly that to success in mathematics: BASIC. Why do so many students fail algebra? They're shaky on their number facts. They can't work (4X+7)(5X+8) unless they know 4x5, 4x8, 7x5 and 7x8, and many eighth and ninth graders don't, as their teachers verify. Not knowing even ten of the 390 number facts can result in enough wrong answers to erode self-confidence and lower self-esteem to the point that a student becomes a math dropout.

With TouchMath, students are never shaky on the number facts. If students remember a fact, they write it down. If they don't remember it, they figure it out. THEY NEVER GUESS! TouchMath is a dictionary for the number facts. It's a way of looking up a number fact – a way of knowing you know, not hoping you know. When will a student quit looking up a number fact? When they know it, the same way they'll quit looking up the meaning or spelling of a word in a regular dictionary – when they know it.

"The number facts are too fundamental to success in math to be entrusted to memory alone."

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