Instant assessment for basic math fact fluency: Ask ’em!

Teachers and parents often ask, “How do I know if my children need to study math facts?”  Here’s an instant assessment you can do of math fact fluency.  Ask a student a “hard one” such as, “What’s 9 times 7?”  or if they are in first or second grade, “What’s 8 plus 9?”  If they start counting on their fingers or hesitate while puzzling it out, they do not have “math fact fluency.” They need a program of systematic math facts practice until they know them all “by memory,” as CCSS says.

Math fact fluency means instant recall

A student thinks through an equation by recalling their math facts.Some teachers and schools teach “tricks” for remembering facts that are supposed to help children.  However, they should at most be a temporary crutch.  Such techniques need to be replaced with instant recall.  The student shown here is using the commonly-taught “doubles plus one” trick for figuring out the answer to, “What’s 8 plus 9?”  This is not fluency.  He needs practice in math facts so they become “automatic” in recall. If he is still having to do this in fourth or fifth grade, he’ll find math work slow-going and drudgery. He’ll also find it hard to follow a math lesson when he has to stop and puzzle out simple facts like this.

Math fact fluency makes math easy

Students who know the math facts instantly can fly through their math assignments. They enjoy the exercise and feel good about their math abilities. On the other hand, students who have to count on their fingers, or use a number line or a times tables chart to do their math assignments come to hate math.  It is so-o-o-o-o slow.  I’m sad to say that when I taught elementary and middle school remedial students I knew they hated math because they had to puzzle out most of the facts.  What else could I do but assign lots of math fact practice that they hated?

In graduate school I learned how to design a math facts practice program in a way that every student can succeed in memorizing the facts.  I put a paper-and-pencil program together back in the 90’s and have been  sharing it with people ever since. I called it Mastering Math facts, but everyone else just called it Rocket Math.  That became its official name in 2007.

I know there is no reason for students to be bogged down and discouraged by math, especially by lack of math fact fluency.  This doesn’t need to happen to children.  Every student is capable of memorizing basic math facts with a little effort and a carefully sequenced curriculum, like the Rocket Math Worksheet Program.

Two students participating in one of Rocket Math's math fluency programsTeachers have been successfully using my nearly secret curriculum with wild success for decades. Oddly enough, students actually enjoy the Rocket Math Worksheet program.  They enjoy the paired practice with a partner.  So that could be it.  Or it might be because they see themselves actually learning and getting better.

Free Online Game subscription as long as you need to decide

A paper-and-pencil curriculum like the Rocket Math Worksheet Program involve standing at the copy machine, which is not fun for the teacher.  Rocket Math now has an Online Game app which starts with a complimentary initial subscription of 14 days.  You can learn more about it at that link.  Or you can just go ahead and register an account and start it on this link. Send an email to me at don at  and I’ll extend the complimentary subscription as long as you need to decide.**  If you need one to ten seats it is a whopping $4 a seat for a year.   Twenty or more seats are $2.30 each for the year and per seat prices go down from there.  Really there’s no reason to leave kids counting on their fingers.

Sincerely, Dr. Don

** You could even ask to finish out the school year on the complimentary subscription and then subscribe next year.

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