What if students become stuck?


Something is wrong if any student cannot pass a sheet within the six tries shown on the Rocket Chart. Do not allow this condition to persist. Intervene with one of the ideas below.

  1. If the student has never passed a timing, perhaps the child can’t really write that fast. Try testing the student orally, with the student telling you the answers. In oral testing the student says only the answers—not the whole problem. If the student can orally answer at least 40 facts in one minute, then the student is satisfactorily fluent with those facts. The handwriting goals must be too high. Reset his/her goals at the previous best and let the student move on to the next set.
  2. The most frequent reason a student does not progress is because the student does not practice the right way. In other words he/she avoids saying the problems out loud or skips the correction procedure when they are hesitant. Or they will simply go on after a hesitation or error rather than going back three problems and trying again to see if they are faster now. The remedy is for the teacher to practice with these students as recommended and see if that makes a difference. It often does. Let us tell you: This is typically the “magic bullet.” It is fascinating really. Carrying out the practice procedure as I have written it, is VERY powerful. I wouldn’t lie to you. If the teacher practicing with these students does help, arrange to see that they practice the right way consistently during peer practice. You may have to change partners or watch over them daily until they start practicing the right way. Consider increasing motivation through more rewards and recognition to keep students practicing the right way.
  3. The student may not be trying because he/she is unmotivated. Watch to see if the student is doing practice correctly or giving the test their best effort. Most often this is a result of failing to succeed rather than a cause. [That’s really a very important understanding for you to have, so I’m going to say it again!] Lack of student motivation is most often a result of failing to progress rather than a cause. Consider practicing with the student. Think about ways to increase student motivation, including use of student achievement awards and social recognition for success.
  4. Watch to see that the student is “on-task” throughout the timing. Some students fail to realize that looking up around the room during a timing will slow them down so much they won’t pass. [Really, I kid you not. I’ve seen kids, who stopped to check the clock several times during a one minute timing, be surprised that they didn’t pass!] If a student really cannot stay on task for 60 seconds you might try cutting the goal and the time in half—give a 30 second timing with a goal cut in half as well. That may do the trick. It is often necessary to point out to younger students that erasing takes too long. Have you ever watched a second grader erase something? One could grow old waiting. Point out to students that perhaps putting a line through a mistake and writing the correct answer would save time.
  5. If practicing with a student the right way doesn’t make a big difference, then the student may be stuck because he/she is “in over his/her head.” The student has officially passed several sets without completely mastering them. This should not happen if students always have to meet or beat their previous best—but sometimes it happens anyway. A sign that this has happened is that they have several facts in the set with which they are hesitant. You can tell just by watching over their shoulder as they complete a timing—there will be hesitation on several of the facts.
  6. The basic remedy for kids who are stuck is to back up in the alphabet until you find a letter they can pass. You can either test back all at once or have the student move back one letter a day until they do pass after one day’s practice. Get them a new Rocket Chart to start over. Once you find out where the student is successful, make sure their goals are as fast as they can write—that you’re not letting them pass even though they are hesitant on some facts. If you announce a policy of “six tries and then you have to move back” and you announce this policy ahead of time, fewer students will get to six tries without passing! Being proactive is the key here. It is important to cover all of your bases prior to bad things happening. It is much better to pre-correct for something than to have to go back and re-teach a procedure or try to introduce one when a student is upset and losing motivation.

Warning (Yep, another warning. I am being proactive too!): Do not reduce the criterion to pass each sheet, as that will make working through the sets in Rocket Math increasingly difficult for the students! They will not be learning each small set as well as they need to and you’ll be adding more facts faster than they can handle. The cumulative task will get more and more difficult. Only reduce the criterion if the student simply cannot write that fast—otherwise (with enough practice) they can learn all the facts to the same speed as they learned the first set.

Why are basic math facts important to memorize?

There are several reasons why learning math facts to fluency is a critical skill.

  1. Calculators expect users to have a ready knowledge of simple facts in order to know when errors entering data return incorrect answers.
    Children who don’t have a quick grasp of the facts do not generate correct estimates or make good guesses in complex math problems. Their problem solving ability is hurt because they cannot tell if an answer “makes sense.”
  2. Lack of fluency with math facts limits the number of more advanced math problems students can and will do on a daily basis. Because doing math problems are so slow and difficult students resist doing their math assignments and thereby learn less.
  3. Students who are being distracted because their fact knowledge is not automatic find it difficult to learn complex math algorithms. Students who are automatic with their math facts find it much easier and are much more successful at higher level math.
  4. Once students reach fractions, they need to figure out common denominators, equivalent fractions, reduce fractions and cancel out like factors. All of these procedures depend upon instantaneous recognition of multiplication facts. Students cannot easily learn, nor easily understand fractions procedures without a ready knowledge of multiplication facts.
  5. Mastery of fractions, decimals, percentages and ratios is required for students to be ready for algebra. Algebra is the gatekeeper to all higher math classes and success on the SAT. Higher math is the gatekeeper to 4-year colleges and all of the more technical professions. For some students all of these opportunities are denied due to lack of mastery of multiplication math facts!

Rocket Math Overview


We know, as teachers, that we can trace our students’ difficulties with higher order math algorithms to a lack of fluency with basic math facts. We also know that we need to do something about our students’ lack of fluency without sacrificing loads of time that needs to be spent on the core math program. What do we do you ask? Here is the answer!

Rocket Math is a structured program for the sequential practice of math facts. The program is structured in a consistent manner (Let’s hear it for consistency!) through all four operations so teachers can implement a simple daily routine. (Simple is good!) The key uniqueness of the program is the slow introduction of new facts and the structure that will allow students to progress towards mastery at their own pace. This has proven to be a powerful ingredient in the success experienced by the students and appreciated by the teachers as students become fluent in math facts. This way of organizing math facts is both research-based and has had many years of on going field success. Allowing quick learners to master higher operations while students who require more time on an operation proceed at their own rate, builds confidence along with mastery. Each day’s routine takes no more than six or seven minutes of class time…Really, six or seven minutes!

The program’s daily component consists of one page practice sheets lettered A-Z. The outside of each page gives practice focused on 2 facts and their inverses. (Only four new facts at a time you ask? Yep!) The inside is a timed test on the facts learned thus far. A timed test every day and YOU don’t have to create it! (Sounds good to us too!) Students who meet or beat their goal get “glory” and a new sheet to work on (with two new facts and their inverses of course). Students who do not pass, take home the test and practice and repeat the page again the next day. Same thing happens the following day: practice on the outside on the facts learned thus far, then take a timed test on the inside. Students record their efforts on a rocket chart on which they color in lettered squares for each sheet they pass.

There are placement tests for accelerating students into an operation in which they already have some proficiency. There are tests of writing speed so that adjusted goals can be created for students who can’t write fast enough to answer 40 problems in a minute. Students with such adjusted goals are expected to always meet or beat their previous best to pass. How smart does this sound? Sounds smart to us too!

Within each operation there are also five progress-monitoring tests (2-minute timings of ALL the facts). Every week or two students take these two-minute tests and graph the results on blank graph forms provided. This enables the teacher and students to keep track of their progress in memorizing these facts. These progress-monitoring tests are powerful tools for encouraging students as well as perfect data collection and management tools.