Debate #3 – I love multiplication facts…but it’s not all about me

Debate #3 – I love multiplication facts…but it’s not all about me

“I am not asking for the complete removal of all these strategies, but merely a re-balance, a refocus, a re-emphasis on the importance of acquiring and mastering basic math skills.”

The above quote is from Nhung Tran-Davies, a parent concerned about the lack of basic math skill teaching in his daughter’s Alberta school (full article here). Granted, this article is from 2014, and aptly stated by our professor, anything published related to education and/or technology beyond 7 years or so ago might be subject to a higher level of skepticism and scrutiny. However, the article, and in particular, the above quote, really resonated with me.

This week’s debate topic: Schools should no longer teach skills that can be easily carried out by technology (e.g., cursive writing, multiplication tables, spelling)

I hate to say it, but yet again, I’m truly on the fence with this one. That’s why I appreciate Tran-Davies’ suggestion of a better balance in approaches and a meshing of traditional skill learning and inquiry-based problem solving.

As alluded to in the blog title, I’m a big fan of multiplication facts. Not only that, as a student, I loved all things basic and traditional – drill and practice worksheets, timed multiplication drills, spelling tests, clearly outlined step-by-step procedures for equations that could be checked and verified. How satisfying it was to spend several minutes solving for “x” and ultimately determining its correct value! (Sorry, could have prefaced that with a nerd-alert, but we’re all teachers here, and I know at least some of you love it too).

goal scores GIF
Goal Scores GIF from

This debate topic suggests that we should replace basic skills, the ones typically not involved with tech, with more creative, inquiry based opportunities enriched through digital technology. The basic skills don’t matter if tech can just do it for us, right? If we’re struggling to know what exactly is most important to teach, maybe it’s worth reemphasizing-what’s the point of it all? Where are we ultimately trying to go from here?

Mason, Shaw and Zhang (2019) borrow words from UNESCO (2005), highlighting the experience of quality education as one that “enables individuals to learn to know, to do, to be, and to live together” (p. 211). Undoubtedly, technology is a major part of this, and increasingly so! The authors go on to note the need to “…consider the changes that are occurring in society, and the required response of education to these changes and the impact of this on individuals and communities. As societies evolve and adapt, so education systems and approaches also need to change and adapt” (2019, p. 218). As years pass by, so should the standing practices and pedagogy in education; they should be in flux with the changing world. But in keeping with previous arguments in previous debates, technology can’t change this. As argued by Ken Robinson in this video, and echoed by many others still today, the educational system we find ourselves in is outdated and in need of reform. It’s easy to assume that technology, the greatest modernizer of our time, is the solution to this. But does technology fit in to the rigid, historical framework of education we still find ourself in in such a way that allows us to scrap basic skill-learning and put all our metaphorical eggs in the technological basket? I don’t think so. I think there are still too many barriers to this, and quite frankly, too many risks.

A lack of equity, access, stable home-life, classroom support, and large class sizes (I know, shocking) make it difficult for me to want to fully buy in to the idea of more technology time replacing teaching of basic skills in the classroom. Alyssa talked about the danger of exacerbating the digital divide by doing this. No, not all students will be great spellers or memorize their multiplication facts, but maybe that’s okay. The way I look at it, some students will succeed at these things, helping benefit their future selves and future societies. As Durston mentioned during his team’s debate, basic foundational understanding is helpful in building and creating better technology. On the other hand, some students, due to cognitive, social, behavioural, or other reasons, may never learn cursive writing or be able to solve simple math problems without the use of a calculator. But don’t we already know this to be true? Maybe regardless of the technological interventions or educational system we find ourselves in, not all students will be successful in all areas; they will excel in whatever they are naturally, uniquely gifted in. Provided that we, as educators, continue providing a balanced set of opportunities for our students to be engaged and successful, I think we’re on the right track.

Final stance? Schools should still teach most* basic skills, and if needed, students may use technology as an assistive tool in their learning in these areas.

*cursive can probably go. lol.

Season 8 Nbc GIF by The Office
Season 8 GIF by The Office from

3 thoughts on “Debate #3 – I love multiplication facts…but it’s not all about me

  1. Very well articulated and thought out, Christina! I really enjoyed reading your response and agreed with every word you said, especially the last point that cursive can probably go! For years I felt it was important to know, especially for whenever something requires your signature. This changed when I “signed” papers on a home purchase. My “signature” was my name typed out and put in cursive font, and now I do not recall the last time I have actually needed to sign anything by hand. Great post, and love the Dwight Schrute ending!

    1. Reid, I hadn’t even thought about the digital signature! It has definitely reduced the amount of times a true cursive signature is needed; great point. Thanks for reading!

  2. I think that the concept of cursive should have been changed to penmanship. I do think that there is value in being able to hold a writing utensil properly, not only for writing skills but for future vocational skills as well. From holding dental instruments to a scalpal (anyway more examples of the use of holding an instrument properly), being able to hold something properly with dexterity and strength is a skill that shouldn’t be forgotten. If we only rely on technology to type and are unable to write, what happens when technology doesn’t work? What happens when forms need to be filled by hand and more?

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