Stanford professor [Jo Boaler] criticizes New York state's interpretation of Common Core math standards.
Too much emphasis on rote memorization, she says, inhibits students’ abilities to think about numbers creatively, to build them up and break them down.She cites her own 2009 study, which found that low-achieving students tended to memorize methods and were unable to interact with numbers flexibly.
...she is currently working on a study with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in which she is finding that the lowest performing students in the world are the ones who think math is about memorization.
Also, Boaler argues that memorization of boring math facts, such as times tables, turns students off from math. Often, they’re high achieving students who have the kind of creative minds that would otherwise excel at it.
The most compelling research evidence that Boaler presents is about how… pressure provokes math anxiety in many students.…A 2013 University of Chicago study found that that the working memory portion of the brain becomes blocked in stressed students and they cannot access the math facts that they know. Over time, the anxiety builds and their confidence erodes.
The human brain is forgetful by nature, she argues...Students who learned primarily through rote [memorization] might freeze during an inevitable moment of forgetfulness, and be unable to think through the problem and come to an answer efficiently.
Mary Mokris, a senior advisor there, defended the importance of learning times tables so thoroughly that it becomes automatic. “You need that automaticity to build a foundation and go to the next step,” she said, adding that measuring speed was also important because it helps the instructor gauge how well the student has mastered the material.
As for research, Mokris pointed to brain science studies that have shown that repetition helps build synapses in the brain. “Until you have the repetition, you can’t build the paths,” she said.And indeed, when you dig deeper into Boaler’s paper, she is a big fan of practice and repetition. But Boaler distinguishes this from blind memorization.
Ultimately we need more research to show what kind of practice works best.