Young students around the world struggle to memorize multiplication tables, but the effort pays off. Cognitive scientists say that learning 6 x 7 and 8 x 9 by heart frees up the brain’s working memory so that students can focus on the more demanding aspects of problem solving.
Math teachers debate the best way to make multiplication automatic. Some educators argue against drills and say fluency will develop with everyday usage. Others insist that schools should devote time to helping children memorize times tables.
Even among proponents of memorization, it’s unclear which methods are the most effective. Should kids draw their own color-coded tables and study them, or copy their multiplication facts out dozens of times? Should they play multiplication songs and videos? Should they learn mnemonic tricks, like how the digits of the multiples of nine add up to nine (1+8, 2+7, 3+6, etc.)? My daughter’s gym teacher used to make students shout “7 x 5 is 35” and “6 x 8 is 48” as they did jumping jacks. (It was certainly a way to make jumping less monotonous.)
To help advise teachers, a team of learning scientists compared two common methods: chanting and flash cards.
The 2022 experiment took place in…