I’ve heard this debated, and both sides make great points. So, do students need the fundamentals to be successful in math?
The answer isn’t quite black and white. Overall, the answer may be no, they actually don’t. However, it also depends on the fundamentals in question.
The Bare Basics
It’s not so much that students need to know math before doing math. It’s all about their thinking processes. These are the fundamentals that students need. For instance, it’s what Common Core is based around – learning the processes for thinking through math versus just memorizing.
While some students already have those processes, others may still need some guidance. For example, a child that struggles with counting isn't quite ready to comprehend addition. Or, a child struggling with language skills may not be able to reason through a word problem just yet.
This is where the bare basics come into play. Studies have shown that it takes multiple areas of the brain to do math. I love telling students this, so I can prove that math helps make the brain stronger – which is a great reason to learn it.
It takes language, memory, temporal-sequential ordering, spatial ordering, attention and more to reason through math problems. Much of this is learned at an early age. For instance, when kids are stacking blocks by color or talking to you about the book you just read together, they’re building the fundamentals they need to do math and of course, a wide variety of other things.
Building Upon The Basics
Adam Sarli showcases the perfect example of why children don’t need more than the bare basics before doing math. While it does help students to know more, they usually reason things out. It may not be the approach you and I would use based on what we know now, but for the kids, it’s a learning experience that helps them figure out why and how math works.
Sarli talks about one student, Yarieliz, and how she learned to go from addition to scaling up by addition to multiplication without learning the fundamentals first. This happened as she reasoned through word problems. Students were encouraged to find their own way, and it worked.
Fundamentals are important, but perhaps not always necessary. With the right problems, games and activities, kids can do math by using logical thinking to get from Point A to Point B, or in Yarieliz case, addition to multiplication:-)
Hi, I'm Ellie! I've been in education for 25 years, teaching all subject areas at both the elementary and middle school levels.