There is nothing innate about the mathematics at school that should demand speed. Many people incorrectly believe that being good at math means being fast at math. The usual justification is that speed builds fluency, and that students need to call on facts readily in order to free up their limited working memory when tackling tougher problems. That’s why you go through all those drills.
We no longer need students to compute fast (we have computers for this) we need them to think deeply, connect methods, reason, and justify.
The problem arises when we fixate on speed as the only way for students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills. When we value fast computation we encourage a set of learners who compute quickly and discourage many others, including deep slow thinkers, visual thinkers, who are very important to maths.
An excessive focus on speed reinforces a binary view towards maths – you’re good if you’re “fast and tough”, “luck” otherwise. But fluency has to encompass more than mere fact recall; it must be fused with understanding and reasoning.
Jo Boaler, Head of Department of Mathematics Education at Stanford University advices teachers to:
- Tell students you don’t value fast work.
- Mathematical thinking is about depth not speed
- Don’t use flash cards, speed competitions, timed tests, instead value depth, creativity, different ways of thinking about maths, and different explanations.
Boaler, J. (2015). What’s Math Got To Do With It?
Image credit: Solipsys