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The decimal multiplication table was traditionally taught as an essential part of elementary arithmetic around the world, as it lays the foundation for arithmetic operations with base-ten numbers. Many educators believe it is necessary to memorize the table up to 9 × 9.
The oldest known multiplication tables were used by the Babylonians about 4000 years ago. They used base 60. The oldest known tables using base 10 are the decimal multiplication table on bamboo strips dating to about 305 BC, found in China.
In 493 A.D., Victorius of Aquitaine wrote a 98-column multiplication table which gave (in Roman numerals) the product of every number from 2 to 50 times and the rows were "a list of numbers starting with one thousand, descending by hundreds to one hundred, then descending by tens to ten, then by ones to one, and then the fractions down to 1/144" (Maher & Makowski 2001, p. 383)
In his 1820 book The Philosophy of Arithmetic, mathematician John Leslie published a multiplication table up to 99 × 99, which allows numbers to be multiplied in pairs of digits at a time. Leslie also recommended that young pupils memorize the multiplication table up to 25 × 25.
The traditional rote learning of multiplication was based on memorization of columns in the table, in a form like
1 × 10 = 10
2 × 10 = 20
3 × 10 = 30
4 × 10 = 40
5 × 10 = 50
6 × 10 = 60
7 × 10 = 70
8 × 10 = 80
9 × 10 = 90
This form of writing the multiplication table in columns with complete number sentences is still used in some countries instead of the modern grid above.
There is a pattern in the multiplication table that can help people to memorize the table more easily. It uses the figures below:
→ → 1 2 3 2 4 ↑ 4 5 6 ↓ ↑ ↓ 7 8 9 6 8 ← ← 0 0 Fig. 1 Fig. 2
For example, to memorize all the multiples of 7:
Figure 1 is used for multiples of 1, 3, 7, and 9. Figure 2 is used for the multiples of 2, 4, 6, and 8. These patterns can be used to memorize the multiples of any number from 0 to 10, except 5. As you would start on the number you are multiplying, when you multiply by 0, you stay on 0 (0 is external and so the arrows have no effect on 0, otherwise 0 is used as a link to create a perpetual cycle). The pattern also works with multiples of 10, by starting at 1 and simply adding 0, giving you 10, then just apply every number in the pattern to the "tens" unit as you would normally do as usual to the "ones" unit.
Tables can also define binary operations on groups, fields, rings, and other algebraic systems. In such contexts they can be called Cayley tables. Here are the addition and multiplication tables for the finite field Z5.
The Chinese multiplication table consists of eighty-one sentences with five Chinese characters per sentence, making it is easy for children to learn by heart. A shorter version of the table consists of only forty-five sentences, as terms such as "nine eights beget seventy-two" are identical to "eight nines beget seventy-two" so there is no need to learn them twice.
In 1989, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) developed new standards which were based on the belief that all students should learn higher-order thinking skills, and which recommended reduced emphasis on the teaching of traditional methods that relied on rote memorization, such as multiplication tables. Widely adopted texts such as Investigations in Numbers, Data, and Space (widely known as TERC after its producer, Technical Education Research Centers) omitted aids such as multiplication tables in early editions. NCTM made it clear in their 2006 Focal Points that basic mathematics facts must be learned, though there is no consensus on whether rote memorization is the best method.