Activity: What Do Others Think?


The purpose of this activity is to give you a chance to learn what others think about the approach to math facts taken in this unit. That approach suggests that knowing many facts is a good thing, but that taking numbers apart and putting them back together—which makes calculation even with two- and three-digit numbers easier—is much more important.


The view in this module is that students do need lots of practice, but with ideas, not with “facts” or rote sets of procedures. They need math sense and that means practice taking numbers apart and putting them back together in ways that makes calculation easier and more logical. Math sense connects the numbers with understanding of the ideas they represent. And all of this can be done, we know, in the time formerly spent on (too much) memorization.  Old habits die hard, however, and many teachers are wedded to the old way of teaching arithmetic. But opinions and practices are changing.


Overview: Read a paragraph to others and ask them questions about what they think.

Step 1: Reading a paragraph to others: Let’s find out what it’s like where you live and work. Here’s a paragraph to read to seven people, followed by a couple of questions.  You can interview anyone: students, friends, family members—but interviewing professional educators would be interesting, and you’d learn something about the place where you work. If you are using this unit as part of a class or workshop, of course, this might become a group activity, at your instructor’s option. What you learn from those you talk to will likely vary from place to place. The point is to help you find out what things are like, especially where you work.  Of course, you can answer the questions yourself, too.

Statement (the paragraph to read)

The best way to learn number facts is to develop number sense and to work with numbers in different ways, not to blindly memorize without number sense. Number sense is knowing how a number can be taken apart and put back together, and then using that knowledge to solve math problems. Math facts are a very small part of mathematics, but unfortunately students who don’t memorize math facts well often come to believe that they can never be successful with math and turn away from the subject.  (adapted from by Dr. Jo Boaler)

Step 2: Asking questions: After you read the paragraph aloud to each person, ask the following questions:


  1. What’s your reaction to the statement I just read?
  2. Do you memorize things easily?
  3. Did you like math in school or not?
  4. Do you have number sense? Where did it come from? How do you use it in everyday life?

Step 3: Thinking about what people told you: As with previous activities, it may help you to organize and even write up the answers you get. If you are completing this activity with a group, your instructor may have some additional ideas about ways to share the stories you heard. Also, think about your own perspective. Does the viewpoint taken in this unit make sense to you?  Did anyone you spoke with influence how you now think about the issue?