Mathematical fluency refers to the ability quickly to retrieve answers to simple computation problems, such as 2 + 3 = 5, 7 – 4 = 3, 5 x 6 = 30 and 63 ÷ 7 = 9. An important advantage of mathematical fluency is that it frees up mental resources to focus on the conceptual aspects of the mathematics to be learned. Thus, in problem-solving, a child can focus on what the problem is about and on how to go about solving it, using his or her knowledge of mathematical facts to assist in arriving at the problem solution. Historically, acquiring mathematical fluency has largely involved drill such as using flash cards or oral recitation of multiplication facts, but such methods can fail to engage children leading to disinterest or, even worse, to avoiding mathematics altogether. We will review behavioural and neuroimaging research that shows that better mathematical fluency is related to greater mathematics achievement as well as our own work indicating that the type of mathematical input children receive can influence the rate of development of mathematical fluency. Then we will outline an engaging, evidence-informed approach to instruction that might be particularly effective for improving multiplication fact fluency. We focus on multiplication because it is crucial to acquiring other more advanced concepts such as decimals, fractions and long division.
Tracy Solomon is a developmental psychologist and health systems research scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children. Her research is focused on identifying effective methods of mathematics instruction. She is passionate about making research in the cognitive and neurosciences accessible to teachers so that classroom instruction can be more closely aligned with the evidence on what works for learning math.
John Mighton is a mathematician and playwright and is the founder of JUMP Math, a charity dedicated to improving the teaching of math. John has given keynotes at many conferences on cognitive science and education, including the Aspen Brian Forum. He is the recipient of the Ryerson Award for service to public education and the Schwab Award for Social Entrepreneur of the Year.