Why raise student goals for passing?

A parent asks:
Why does the teacher keep raising our daughter’s goal every time she does better on a test? She now has a higher goal than any other child in her class, and she can’t pass in one or two days like she used to. She is getting discouraged. Is this fair? Is this what you recommend?

Dr. Don answers:
Yes, this is what I recommend. I explain the recommendation on the Rocket Math FAQs page, item K, “What do I do about fast writers, slow writers, and do goals ever change?”

Your daughter’s teacher is following the directions which do say to raise student’s goals when they demonstrate the ability to write faster.  Two things tell me it is a good idea for the teacher to raise your daughter’s goal.
1) Before her goals was raised, your daughter was passing much faster than we would like.  Remember, the goal of Rocket Math is that students should know these facts by heart for the rest of their lives, so extra practice is a good deal.  Students who learn an operation in one semester (about 90 school days) are learning as fast as is necessary–and that is practicing for 3 to 4 days on each set of facts before passing. Tell your daughter that you don’t want her to pass until she has practiced for at least three days.  Help her to be patient and be willing to practice a bit longer.
2) Your daughter has demonstrated she can write faster than we initially thought.  We begin by setting individualized goals based on the writing speed test.  When students demonstrate the ability to write faster, we raise their goals.   The goal is to for students to practice until they know the facts instantly, without any hesitation.
If a student can write faster, but has lower goals, that student can be hesitant on some facts, and still pass.  This is not good, because they won’t get as much practice on those facts as they should have.  Eventually after passing several levels even though the new facts were not fully mastered, the student hits the wall.  They are too slow on a bunch of facts, and there are too many now to be learned.  (We can’t learn ten or more similar things at the same time.)  This is when students get stuck and can no longer move ahead.  This is not good.  To prevent this we need students to answer all the facts as fast as they can write.  That means if the student demonstrates the ability to write faster than we initially thought, the student should be expected to answer facts at a faster rate than we initially expected.  This varies by student, as some students can write much faster than others.
To ensure that students are answering fact questions as fast as their fingers can carry them, we encourage teachers to raise the goals closer to what students have actually done.  As long as students can still pass in fewer than six days, that is acceptable and better for them than passing every day.  Students who pass every day aren’t getting as much practice as we’d like.
Once students have goals over 40 however, the rules change.  More on that in another post.

Motivating by creating success

Cool rewards, such a getting to make a human Rocket ship on the playground (above), work best if students expect to succeed.

There is sometimes a chicken-and-egg problem with rewards for success. If students are not being successful, just offering new rewards won’t necessarily motivate them. Especially if they have come to the point where they don’t expect to succeed. Then a two-pronged approach to motivation is needed.

A very smart instructional coach and principal I know, recently decided that Rocket Math was not progressing the way it should in their school. Students weren’t passing frequently enough, weren’t excited, and weren’t getting motivated. These two instructional leaders realized that their teachers needed help to effectively motivate their students AND they knew the students needed to experience more success to get motivated. So rather than just offer rewards, they set up special practice sessions so students could get “two-a-day” practices for a week.

The principal and instructional coach made a special challenge week (all 1st-5th grades in this school do Rocket Math). During this week each class had a second ten-minute time during the day for Rocket Math. Immediately after their first practice session of the day, the instructional coach and principal checked the folders of any students who thought they passed, so that if they did, they would re-fill their folders with the next set, allowing them to move on immediately during the second session. Students who didn’t pass knew they had a second chance that same day. At Rocket Math we know that two practice sessions in one day is very powerful and leads to faster learning! The instructional coach and principal also held some extra enthusiastic “Rocket to the Office” practice sessions for selected students who needed the extra boost.

Prizes were announced at the start of the challenge week. The student in each class who passed the most levels during the week would get a $10 Barnes and Noble gift card. The teacher whose class passed the most levels in the week won lunch on the principal. And the class that won (by passing the most levels) got a special secret prize, which you can see above. The picture was posted in the school newsletter, on the school website, and the school’s closed Facebook page.

The brilliant thing about the challenge week was that the excitement of the prizes were reinforced by the extra practice sessions, boosting success at the same time as providing extra motivation. That is effective instructional leadership, par excellence.

Your previous license was not a subscription



customers think they have subscription accounts because they previously purchased the old “lifetime license” to Rocket Math.  I fear there is a misunderstanding here.  The previous licenses were not “accounts.” They were pdf files that were permanently given to customers to save and keep and use forever. Once you downloaded the files they were yours to store and move and use, however you wanted for as long as you have them. That is the lifetime part. Not only have I not taken those from anyone, I don’t even have a way to do that.

Starting in June of 2015 I created a new website, which is a “filing cabinet on the web.” I then created a new 2015 version of Rocket Math with different shading and put that into the “filing cabinet.” I also collected the other programs I had created and put those into the “filing cabinet.” Then I began to sell subscription access to this “filing cabinet” full of new things. There’s an inexpensive “Basic” subscription (item #2000), for $29 a year, that accesses the same four operations as the original Rocket Math. Then there’s a “Universal” subscription (item #2001) that also includes all of the new programs, such as Rocket Writing for Numerals, Add to 20, Skip Counting, Factors, Integers and 10s, 11s, 12s in Multiplication and Division. The Universal subscription includes the basic operations and sells for $49 per year. Customers who start with a Basic subscription and want to purchase Upgrade to a Universal subscription can do so by clicking on upgrade next to their active subscription.

Something new.  The website, the new programs and the subscription access plan are all new and represent a very significant investment on my part to create. I think it is a much better way to give access to my curriculum. It allows me to update, correct, improve, and expand the materials without having to make customers pay or even do anything to access those improvements.  This has enabled me to devote full-time to developing Rocket Math curriculum and servicing my customers.

Customers who previously purchased licenses, already have the files for the basic operations that they own for life. However, if they would like to also purchase a subscription to get access to the “filing cabinet on the web” then I am offering that annual subscription to them at a discounted price. The way I am offering the discount is individually. I will personally check the old files to see if the customer is listed as a previous license holder, and then I will give them a $10 off coupon.  This is enough to get the basic subscription for 3 months free.

Hopefully, this clears up any misunderstanding about the difference between the old licenses and the new subscriptions.

Filling testing-created gaps in your schedule.

Many schools are starting spring testing soon, and it wreaks havoc with the daily schedule. People outside education don’t really understand how much school schedules are disrupted by attempting to test everyone in the school on the available computers. Not to mention catching all the students who are absent during their assigned time. Disrupted schedules create small gaps in the schedule, which are hard to fill, even more so when not every student is present. Let me present an option to fill those small gaps–do Rocket Math! Here’s five reasons why you should.

1) By this time of the year, students know the Rocket Math routine, so it should not take more than ten to fifteen minutes to run, start to finish. So Rocket Math can fill small gaps.

2) Even if Rocket Math has been done once during the day, a second or even third session during the day will NOT harm students, it will actually help them progress faster. (As long as you have at least a half hour between sessions).

3) It is beneficial for the students in the room even when some students are out doing make-up testing. It won’t require you to re-teach a lesson.

4) In contrast to free reading or make work activities, which only fill time, students doing Rocket Math will be learning critical skills that are necessary for future success.

5) In contrast to the stress of the accountability tests, Rocket Math is something students know well and have success at. They know what they are doing and they see their growth. They know they are learning. This is a powerful antidote to the not-so-straightforward tasks, questions and expectations of the accountability tests.

I highly recommend keeping Rocket Math folders handy for filling those small gaps in the daily schedule caused by testing.

Making Math a Blast


RocketMath has changed the way students learn math and in the amount of time they learn it. This worksheet-based curriculum brings learning back to paper and pencil. Teaching students two facts and their reverses on each worksheet allows kids to learn at their own pace without the pressure of time.
Only ten minutes a day are required for this curriculum and students practice with partners’ so they are not alone in their math journey. Once a student feels comfortable with their lesson they participate in a one minute assessment to see if they are ready to move on.
Whether studying on their own or with a tutor, RocketMath makes math simple. To subscribe find the right plan that fits for you.

Do CCSS expect math facts memorizing?

Yes!  Without question, CCSS expects students to know math facts “from memory.”  Students should not be counting on their fingers nor having to stop and think about basic math facts.

CCSS.Math.Content.2.OA.B.2 Fluently add and subtract within 20 using mental strategies. By end of Grade 2, know from memory all sums of two one-digit numbers.
CCSS.Math.Content.3.OA.C.7 Fluently multiply and divide within 100, using strategies such as the relationship between multiplication and division (e.g., knowing that 8 × 5 = 40, one knows 40 ÷ 5 = 8) or properties of operations. By the end of Grade 3, know from memory all products of two one-digit numbers.

Worksheets alone will not get students to that place–it requires oral rehearsal of math facts until there are no hesitations.  That happens best with the kind of peer practice that Rocket Math is designed to provide.
Click here to see my basic math fact recommended benchmarks to use with Rocket Math to implement the Common Core.

How to tutor with Rocket Math

You can see this explained in our YouTube video here.

The first step in setting up a Rocket Math tutoring program is to make a folder for your student. Your Rocket Math subscription gives you access to our filing cabinet on the web. Open the Forms and Information drawer, look under Forms for Every Student and you’ll see the three forms you need. Print out the Rocket Chart and staple it on the front of a manila folder. Print out the Goal Sheet and staple it inside of the folder on the left. Print out the Individual Student Graph and staple it inside the folder on the right. Voila! You now have a student folder!

Next you must decide what operation you intend to teach to your student. Generally, begin with addition in first and second grade, and subtraction after addition is mastered. Starting in third grade multiplication has priority even if addition and subtraction are not mastered. Division comes after multiplication has been mastered.

Depending upon how well you know your math facts, it might be a good idea to make an answer key booklet. If you have two children working with each other, it is essential! You find a Practice Answers A-Z booklet under Answer Keys within each operation. Make the answer keys by printing out the PRACTICE ANSWERS A-Z booklet on a distinctive color of paper and stapling it into a packet.
Next, print out the writing speed test (found in the Forms and Information drawer under “Forms for Every student.”) Then on the first day, give this one-minute writing speed test. You are going to take the information of how many boxes completed from the writing speed test and transfer it to the goal sheet. On the goal sheet highlight the row with the student’s writing speed test results. That row gives you your student’s individualized goals for the 1-minute daily test.

Each day follow the same routine. Set up practice by getting out the student folder, which should have the right practice sheet for the day. Next, congratulate your student if they passed their previous set and let them color in the Rocket Chart for the level they passed. Now, you are ready to begin practicing. Have the student practice with you for two or three minutes followed by taking the one-minute timing. After the test, have the student fill in the date of this try on their Rocket Chart. Then evaluate to see if the student passed. If they had no errors and they met their individualized goal for the 1-minute timing (from the goal sheet) they passed. Then print the next lettered set from the website. If they didn’t pass, print the same sheet to practice again tomorrow.

Daily practice is what makes Rocket Math work. The daily practice is verbal practice, with the student reading the problems around the outside of the Rocket Math worksheet and then saying answers aloud from memory as they go for two to three minutes. By saying the whole fact and the answer aloud each time, the student strengthens their memory of the whole verbal chain. Eventually, they can’t help but remember it—just like a popular advertising slogan. The daily oral practice is what makes Rocket Math work, not the tests! The daily practice is corrected practice, and it is essential that the tutor either knows the answers or has the answer key packet on colored paper, and the packet is turned to the matching page. While the student is practicing, all hesitations or errors are immediately corrected by the tutor. Once a student has read the problem aloud they should have already thought of the answer, so no hesitation is allowed.

If the student hesitates or makes an error, the tutor follows a specific three-step correction or teaching procedure. (1) The tutor interrupts to state the problem and the correct answer, (2) the tutor has the student repeat the problem and the correct answer three times, (3) then the student backs up three problems on the worksheet to give it another try.

Four days a week the student and tutor follow the daily practice routine and do the daily one minute timing. Once a week the student should do the 2-minute timing. This monitors progress and the student should graph their weekly results on the individual student graph inside their folder. If this is trending upward it is proof that the student is learning.

Here are some interventions, for students who are stuck. Remember: these students don’t need anything different, they just need more practice! (1) Make sure the student is not stopping during the test to erase, or look at the clock, or count on fingers, etc. (2) Do another 2-3 minute practice session daily (or two!). This will help kids get “over the hump” if they are stuck! (3) Just make sure to have at least a 30-minute break between practice sessions. (4) Try having students orally practice the tests also! (Because the test facts are different than the practice facts.)

You can expect students to be able to pass each set within 2 to 5 days—if you’re doing everything right. It’s important that students start at the beginning of an operation and are practicing correctly by saying the whole problem and the answer every time. Tutors must be correcting hesitations as well as errors and individualized goals must be based on the Writing Speed Test. If students are taking longer than two to five days, make sure they get extra practice sessions daily. For more suggestions see our website.

What is beyond DIVISION in Rocket Math? Lots!

Walter asks:

Hi Dr. Don, Our school uses Rocket Math. I have a student who will be finishing Division Z before the school year ends. What should this student go on to next if he finishes early? Thanks!

Dr. Don answers:

Walter,   There are several options beyond division in Rocket Math.  These programs are part of item #2000 the $49 Universal subscription. You can click on each of these to see more about them and what they look like. We have the 10s, 11s, and 12s in Multiplication and the 10s, 11s, and 12s in Division. Some people really think those are valuable, and these programs provide a great way to memorize these facts and review the ones already known. Personally, I think knowing up through the 9s is probably sufficient but we have them if you want them.

Another skill that students can start learning after division 1s-9s is how to find all the factors of common numbers. One of the other programs available in the Universal subscription is Rocket Math Factors. We teach a specific procedure for how to start and how to know when you are done finding all the factors of a given number. I did a whiteboard lesson on the procedure for factoring available here at educreations. Then I build a program to practice listing the factors of common numbers that builds this skill to a fluent level. Students enjoy getting good at factors and fractions are going to be much easier once these are known.

Another skill that students can start learning after division is Rocket Math Integers. Students in pre-algebra often find adding and subtracting positive and negative numbers to be difficult and confusing. We have broken this skill down into six component parts and teach two rules which tell students what to do and when. We use vertical number lines to illustrate each problem so that going “up” on the number line is more and going “down” is less. Each type of problem gets practiced first with the vertical number lines and then with a partner and then in a test. There are special rules to set goals no faster than is reasonable.

All of these programs use the same structure as the rest of Rocket Math. There are 26 lettered sets to work through. There are daily practice sessions with a partner who can use answer keys. (Important if only one student is in that program). And of course, there are daily 1-minute timings which can be taken at the same time as everyone else takes their 1-minute timing. Teachers have reported to me that students are really proud to go “beyond division” and enjoy learning these new and prestigious skills. It will be a draw for other students to pass division as well.

Should second graders begin multiplication facts?

Jen writes:
Hi Don,
I am a 2nd grader teacher and LOVE the Rocket Math program. Currently my students are on the addition and subtractions tests. I have had a handful of students pass addition and subtraction, but instead of moving them on to multiplication, I started them on an addition challenge (much higher goals). Not sure if that was a good idea, I just didn’t feel they were ready for multiplication. Do you suggest that 2nd graders do Rocket Math multiplication? Thank you for any help!

Dr. Don answers:
Hi Jennifer,

We have a couple of new options. You can use the Add to 20 program for your second graders who have passed all the subtraction worksheets. That will reinforce the single digit facts but also extend to the Common Core expectations that students would be fluent with combinations like 11+7 and 13+4. The worksheets of the Add to 20 program are part of the Universal subscription. I plan to get Subtract from 20 done soon, and I will also add that to the Universal subscription. So if you want to address those Common Core objectives, those two programs are things you can assign to 2nd graders who finish basic 1s-9s subtraction.

We also have another program, Skip Counting, that is part of the Universal subscription. That teaches students the count-by series, such as counting by 4s (4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 24, etc) to 40, and 9s to 90. The skill of skip counting is a great transition to multiplication because students are essentially learning successive addition when they are skip counting. So Skip Counting would be a great program for second graders after subtraction, especially good for helping them get ready for multiplication.

As far as when to start multiplication, it depends on your students’ concept development. Before beginning to memorize multiplication it is important that students understand the process of multiplication and what it means. If they have done skip counting, successive addition and/or drawn arrays then they probably understand multiplication. Ultimately the best test is whether, given unlimited time, but no help, those students can figure out any single digit multiplication fact, such as 7 x 9. [Don’t ask an easy one like 3 x 4, as they might have learned that by heart already.] If they can figure out any multiplication fact successfully, then they understand the concept. If they cannot figure it out, then they need more conceptual work before starting to memorize multiplication. So the answer about whether second graders are ready for multiplication facts is not necessarily the same for all students.

What’s wrong with this picture?

If you are seeing this in your school, you need Rocket Math!

Recently I gave my pre-service student teachers at Portland State University an assignment to do screening tests of basic skills in their placements. I was shocked to see how few of the screening tests showed students who were fluent with basic, single-digit math facts, where they could answer math facts as quickly as they could write. When children cannot answer math facts quickly and easily they are placed at a unnecessary disadvantage when it comes to doing math.

It is true that learning math facts takes time. No one can learn all of them in a matter of a few days or a week. It takes most students daily practice for months to learn all the facts in an operation. But when you consider that we require students to attend school five hours a day for years and years, it is pretty shocking to realize how many children do not have fluent mastery of math facts when they get to middle school. When the job can be done in ten minutes a day, and every child could become fluent in all four operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division by the end of fourth grade, why isn’t it?

Sometimes, teachers have been taught in their schools of education that helping children memorize things is somehow harmful. With that belief, teachers won’t try to do something systematic like Rocket Math. But after a year or two teaching, especially upper elementary grades, and struggling to teach higher math concepts to children who are interrupted by finger counting in the middle of every single computation, teachers learn that belief is simply wrong. Children are helped immensely by memorizing basic math facts. It enables them to have “number sense,” to easily appreciate the relationships among numerals, and to easily do computation.

Probably the main reason more students are not taught math facts, to the level they need, is that teachers are not aware of a tool that can help them do that. They don’t know that students enjoy doing learning math facts when it is done right. They don’t know that it can be done as a simple routine that takes ten minutes a day. They don’t know how easily students can master all of the facts. In short, they don’t know that Rocket Math exists. Someday a friend of theirs will tell them, because that is how Rocket Math spreads–by word-of-mouth.

If you read this, and you have never seen Rocket Math in action, you may be skeptical. Tell you what, write to me and if you need to see it in action to believe me, and don’t have a friend using Rocket Math, I’ll send you a free subscription to try it out.