There has been somewhat of a debate among a group of teachers that I know. Is it a good idea to give timed addition and subtraction facts tests to second graders? I did it for a while when my team first wanted to do it, but I found that some kids got too upset because they weren't able to work that fast and remained on the same level for a long time, and others zipped through it because it wasn't much of a challenge for them. After two years, I decided not to give these timed tests anymore. Even though it was only for three minutes, I didn't think it was worth the time.
My feeling is that, while it is important to know math facts in order to be able to work faster, it's much more worthwhile to know how to solve problems involving math concepts. Memorization does have its place, but it doesn't mean that kids are able to demonstrate what to do with the numbers. A case in point: four years ago I had a student whose parents kept telling me I wasn't challenging their son in math because he knew all of his multiplication tables. They felt that this was an indication that he was ready for more difficult material. The problem was that when given a word problem to solve, the boy had no idea where to begin. He could not apply his knowledge of the facts to solve real-world problems.
I prefer to spend a part of my daily math class teaching the children problem-solving strategies, so I have two daily problems to solve: one is challenging and the other is on grade level. I don't necessarily assign one to any particular child, but most know which one they are able to solve. Then we spend some time having the students demonstrate ways to solve the problem.
Does anyone have an opinion about the importance of memorizing facts as opposed to learning how to problem-solve?