In an age where teaching methodologies are constantly being scrutinized and updated, one practice that is particularly contentious is timed math drills. These routine exercises, sometimes referred to as ‘Mad Minute Mondays,’ involve teachers administering one-page worksheets covering basic arithmetic operations against the clock.
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- The Science of Math group argues that there is no evidence supporting that timed tests induce math anxiety and insists that they boost math performance.
- Critics argue that timed tests can cause math anxiety and suggest the need for empirical evidence to support claims by the Science of Math group.
- The U.S. Department of Education, based on 27 studies, endorses timed activities for elementary students to build fluency in math operations.
Advocates argue that these speed drills boost math fluency, while critics insist they provoke math anxiety among children, thereby inhibiting learning. This discussion has resurfaced in light of claims made by a group of education researchers known as the ‘Science of Math,’ who argue against the notion that timed tests induce anxiety and maintain that they instead enhance math performance.
The Science of Math’s Argument
The Science of Math’s argument centers on two main points: timed tests do not induce math anxiety, and they enhance math performance. They contend that there is no substantial evidence indicating that timed tests incite anxiety. This claim has been met with considerable opposition. Critics such as Jo Boaler, an education professor at Stanford University, counter that there are ample studies showing the contrary.
The group also suggests that timed drills improve math performance. However, some math education experts have questioned the validity of the citations used to back these claims. Rachel Lambert, an associate professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, conducted a class assignment analyzing the group’s claims and found instances where the citations did not support or even contradicted the claims.
The Impact of Timed Math Drills on Children’s Performance
Despite the contentious debate, there is some empirical evidence indicating that timed drills can positively impact children’s math performance. A 2021 guide by the U.S. Department of Education recommended regular timed activities to build fluency in basic arithmetic operations. The What Works Clearinghouse, a unit of the Department of Education, found 27 studies to back this timed practice, labeling it as a “strong” level of evidence.
Additionally, a 2013 study showed that first graders who received math tutoring and speed practice demonstrated higher math achievement than those who played untimed games. This approach appeared to help children commit more math facts to long-term memory, thereby enhancing their proficiency and automaticity in math.
The Pros and Cons of Timed Math Drills for Children
Timed math drills, when administered thoughtfully, can enhance children’s math fluency and automaticity. Speed drills provide an opportunity for children to commit more math facts to long-term memory, aiding them in solving more complex problems more efficiently.
However, the counter-argument is that timed drills can provoke math anxiety in some children, potentially impeding their learning process. Anxiety can overwhelm a child’s working memory, hindering their ability to process and solve math problems. Furthermore, there are claims that timed tests could potentially reinforce incorrect responses if immediate feedback is not given.
|Enhances Math Fluency: Speed drills can enhance children’s math fluency and automaticity. These exercises provide an opportunity for children to commit more math facts to long-term memory, potentially aiding them in solving more complex problems more efficiently.||Risk of Math Anxiety: Timed drills can provoke math anxiety in some children, potentially impeding their learning process. Anxiety can overwhelm a child’s working memory, hindering their ability to process and solve math problems.|
|Building Proficiency: Some advocates suggest that drills might help children become more proficient in the subject, reducing their math anxiety.||Reinforcement of Incorrect Responses: There are claims that timed tests could potentially reinforce incorrect responses if immediate feedback is not given. This means that a child may repeatedly practice a problem the wrong way.|
|Comparison to Other Fields: Advocates of timed drills point out that such exercises are common in other fields like music and sports to build muscle memory and improve performance.||Effect on Self-Perception: Critics note that under time pressure, some students may feel they are not ‘math persons’, which can demoralize them and reduce their interest in the subject.|
The debate surrounding timed math drills is multifaceted and requires careful consideration of the potential benefits and drawbacks. While timed math drills can potentially improve math performance, they must be administered thoughtfully to prevent unwanted effects. This approach calls for a balanced understanding of the individual needs of each student and their response to such teaching practices. An ideal math class would leverage the benefits of timed practice, while taking care to mitigate the associated risks.
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