Math Fact Apps: Do they help – Or Waste Time?

Just doing math is not enough to develop math fact fluency.

Math leaning head against chalk board

If you want to help your kid succeed in golf, you must first help them develop a good drive. Before they can successfully go out and play a game of golf, they will have to spend some time on the driving range. Right? The same thing goes for math. To help your kid succeed in math, you must first help them develop math fact fluency. Math facts are single-digit problems like 5 +9 or 6 x 8. The times tables are math facts in multiplication. Math facts are the fundamental units of all math problems. They are the drivers, if you will, of doing math. Children who struggle to remember basic math facts will find learning math and doing math difficult. We know what that looks like, right? On the other hand, students who can easily answer all math facts, who can answer math facts with fluency, find math a breeze and are successful and confident in math. Math fact apps can be a great way to help with learning math facts and improving math fact fluency. 

Not all math apps build math fact fluency.

screenshot of Rocketmath's math fact apps game

There are a lot of apps out there that look like they would help your child learn math fact fluency. If they have to answer math facts, won’t that work? Not really. Just playing a game that asks you to answer facts won’t help you learn new facts. In fact, most apps for practicing facts discourage students who don’t know their facts well. Why? Because most of the people designing the app don’t have any experience teaching or knowledge of instructional design. A teacher with expertise in instructional design, like the Rocket Math Online Game App creator, knows how to effectively teach a student new math facts (or any facts) and knows an effective math app from an ineffective one.

Three essential features of an effective math fact app.

There are plenty of ineffective math apps. Some apps don’t give the answers when a student doesn’t know them. Some apps just fill in the answer for the student and then move on. When the student doesn’t know the answer, the app has to teach it. To teach a math fact that the student doesn’t know, the app has to do these three things:

  1. Tell the problem and the answer to the student, if needed.
  2. Ask the student to give the correct answer to the problem from memory.
  3. After a short delay, ask the problem again a couple of times, to be sure the student can remember the answer.

The key job in developing math fact fluency is learning new facts. By doing these three things, the app will be able to teach the student new facts, and the student will develop fluency beyond what they already have.

An effective math app will only teach a few math facts at a time.

a kid holding up a tablet with the RocketMath math fact apps on it.

Math facts are all very similar, which is what makes them hard to remember. No one can learn a bunch of new and similar things all at the same time. A person can only learn two, three, or four facts at a time, and you cannot expect to learn more at one time. That’s enough for one session. The student has to practice those facts a lot of times to commit them to memory. Once or twice is not enough. It also won’t help to practice the same fact over and over. Proper math fact fluency practice intermingles new math facts along with facts the learner has already memorized. No more than two to four facts should be introduced at a time. If a student has to answer a lot of random untaught math facts, you will have a very frustrated learner.

How to build math fact fluency by practicing

kid counting on fingersSome students learn to solve addition problems by counting on their fingers. That’s a good beginner strategy, but students need to get past that stage. They need to be able to simply and quickly recall the answers to math facts. An app is good for developing recall. But the app has to ask students to answer the facts quickly, faster than they can count on their fingers. The app has to distinguish when a student recalls the fact (which is quick) from figuring out the fact (which is slow). Second, the app must repeatedly ask the learned facts in a random order, so students recall them. But the app should only throw in new facts once all the facts are mastered and can be answered quickly.

Introduce new facts only when old facts are mastered!

The trick to effectively teaching math facts is to introduce new math facts at an appropriate pace. If you wait too long to introduce math facts, it gets boring and wastes time. If you go too fast, students become confused. Before introducing new facts, students need to master everything you’ve given them. An effective app will test whether students have mastered the current batch of math facts before introducing more facts. And it will also introduce math facts at a pace based on student mastery. That’s the final piece of the puzzle to ensure students learn math facts from an app.

Rocket Math Online Game App–try it for 30 days for free

You probably guessed that we know of an app that meets all these criteria, the Rocket Math Online Game. It is like a driving range for math–it will develop math fact fluency. But don’t take our word for it. Try it for free for 30 days. If your child or students use it daily for 30 days, you’ll know they are learning and becoming more fluent with math facts. Keep it going, and they will become confident and successful in math. And that’s the point, isn’t it?

*The Rocket Math Online Game App focuses on two facts and their reverses at a time, such as 3+4=7, 4+3=7, 3+5=8 and 5+3=8.

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