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Is first grade math just memorization?

  1. Jul 22, 2015 #1
    in first grade, i learned how to add single digit numbers. We relied on counting fingers and then memorizing. But now that i think about it, is math at that level just reliant on memorizing (unless we count our fingers. memorizing is the fast way to add single digit numbers)? So a kid's performance at that level of math is more indicative of good memory, and can't be a good predictor of whether he is gifted at maths?
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  3. Jul 22, 2015 #2
    I don't think it should be. Granted, I don't teach first grade math so I'm not sure how it is often done. One thing that should be developed early on is a sense of place value and the way the decimal system is constructed. One activity that I've done with high school students at the beginning of an algebra course (which was shown to me by a former elementary school teacher) is called 'chip trading' (or several variations of the basic idea). It is amazing how many students in high school don't even understand how our number system is constructed.

    I remember doing math practice books that my mom got me from the drug store when I was in first grade. I recall working on the 'third grade' work books and being confused by 'carrying' numbers. I think that if my teacher(s) had taken the time to do the chip trading activity I might have caught on to this concept more quickly.
  4. Jul 22, 2015 #3


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    Mathematics at First-Grade level is more than just memorizing. It is what much of brainpushups said. Most of the emphasis is on numbers, in base-ten, specifically about whole numbers. Memorization becomes part of what students do, but understanding must build that memorization.
  5. Jul 23, 2015 #4
    Actually, mathematics is much more than numerical manipulation, even at the first-grade. The NCTM recognizes four domains of information of which numerical manipulation is only one. The other domains are verbal, graphical, and symbolic. Students who are talented at math generally can recognize the INTER-RELATIONSHIPS between the four domains without instruction, but they can be taught. For instance, a square is a shape, but it's also the recognition that the lengths of the side can be counted, and that those counts are identical, for all four sides. At the first grade level, three of the domains are encountered, therefore. The verbal: "square". The numerical: "3 x 3". The graphical: "[ ]". A student who is talented (which often just means interested), would right away draw the inferences... for instance that the dimensions of another square "4 x _" would have to have a four for length, and that this rule can be understood more abstractly that "any two sides of a square must be identical in length". The ACT exam, for instance, is a standardized test that heavily draws from these inter-relationships between separate domains of mathematical knowledge. Of course, memorizing basic arithmetical facts is important, but first-grade math can go far beyond that sort of rote evaluation of skills.
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