A common theme in blogs and twitter feeds is the need to teach 21st century skills. The point has been made over and over that we should not be requiring students to memorize facts that can easily be googled. Without getting deep into the argument of what these skills are or whether they are new, let me say that I agree this should be a primary focus of education. I believe in focusing on problem-solving using authentic, real world learning with collaboration both inside my classroom and globally.

But….this year I am teaching a 6th grade math class for the first time. One of the things that has amazed me in my 5 years of teaching a math-focused technology class is how many kids do not know the answer to simple math problems like 3 x 7. They want to use a calculator for basic math facts that I think they should know. So for my class I am thinking about starting the year off by requiring them to review and recite to me the times tables through 12 x 12. I believe that this foundation is necessary for most middle to advanced math concepts including fractions, multiples, factors, algebra, and calculus.

I think memorizing spelling words is another similar set of facts that should be memorized. Even when you have spellchecker you need to be able to spell close enough that it can recognize what you are trying to spell. You also need to be able to pick out the correct word from spellchecker’s choices. I have read many papers where students lacked those two skills.

So my question to readers is what do they think about rote memorization? Is it last century or still important. When is it useful or even necessary? Am I off-base or is it important to teach rote memorization of basic skills before students can perform many higher level tasks.