In What Order Should Students Learn Fast Math Facts?

Basic, Optional, and Alternative—there are a lot of different Rocket Math programs. But which program should you use first? And in what order should you teach fast math facts? Well, it all depends on the grade you teach and the fast math facts your students have already memorized.

An overview of Rocket Math’s fast math fact programs

Rocket Math program sequence description for teaching fast math factsRocket Math offers multiple programs because their are several ways to teach fast math facts.

The Basic Program

Rocket Math’s basic program includes Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, and Division (1s-9s). The basic program must be mastered by all students.

The Alternative Program: Fact Families

There is another way to learn facts, which is called Fact Family math.  Instead of learning all Addition facts, students can learn Addition and Subtraction facts at the same time.  A fact family consists of four related facts, for example: 3+2 = 5, 2 + 3 = 5, 5 – 3 = 2, 5 – 2 = 3.  As an alternative to using the Basic Program, students can learn fact families up to 10 in first grade.  Then students can move on to the upper fact families 11 to 18 in second grade.  There is no clear evidence that this way is better or the separate operations way is better.  That’s why we offer both options.

Optional Programs

The rest of the fast math facts programs like Rocket Writing for Numerals or Skip Counting are optional. You should only offer these programs to students once they have memorized the fast math facts through the Basic Program or the Alternative Program.

The only exception would be in a school where Kindergarteners did not get a chance to learn how to quickly and easily write numerals. In that case, you might take the first two months of the first grade year to run students through Rocket Writing for Numerals before beginning Addition (1s-9s).

Here’s a link to a printable version of the different Rocket Math programs shown in the graphic above.

Let’s take a closer look at how to implement each program in different grade levels.

First grade math facts: Learn Addition

Rocket Math fast math facts programs for first graders include:

  • The Basic Program
    • (1s-9s) Addition
  • The Alternative Program
    • Fact Families (1-10) Add & Subtract
  • Optional Programs
    • Rocket Writing for Numerals
    • Add to 20

If first grade students are taking all year to get through sets A-Z in Addition in the Basic Program, they need some extra help.  You should intervene to help students who take more than a week to pass a level.  Often they need to practice better or practice with a better partner.  Some may need to practice a second time during the day or at home in the evening.  First grade students who finish the 1s-9s can move on to the Add to 20 Optional Program for the remainder of the year.

Likewise, if you choose to teach Fact Families (1-10) Add & Subtract from the Alternative Program instead of using the Basic Program, your students can use the Optional Programs for supplemental learning purposes.

Second grade math facts: Learn Addition and Subtraction

Rocket Math fast math facts programs for second graders include:

  • The Basic Program
    • (1s-9s) Addition
    • (1s-9s) Subtraction
  • The Alternative Program
    • Fact Families (1-10) Add & Subtract
    • Fact Families Part Two (11-18) Add & Subtract
  • Optional Programs
    • Subtract from 20
    • Skip Counting

Second grade students must have completed Addition before starting on Subtraction (1s-9s).  They can also test out of Addition through the Placement Probes.  Second graders who cannot test out of Addition in first grade or didn’t complete it in first grade must focus on Addition.  Only after getting through Set Z of Addition should they move into Subtraction.

You can substitute the Basic Program’s (1s-9s) Addition and (1s-9s) Subtraction for the Alternative Program’s Fact Families (1-10) Add & Subtract and Fact Families Part Two (11-18) Add & Subtract.

Second grade students who complete Addition and Subtraction 1s-9s (or the Alternative Program) can move on to Subtract from 20.  Students who finish Subtract from 20 can do Skip Counting, which does a great job of preparing students to learn Multiplication facts.

Third grade math facts: Learn Multiplication

There aren’t any Alternative Programs available for third graders from Rocket Math. There are only Basic and Optional Programs. These include:

  • The Basic Program
    • (1s-9s) Multiplication (priority)
    • (1s-9s) Addition
    • (1s-9s) Subtraction
  • Optional Programs
    • 10s, 11s, 12s Multiplication
    • Factors

In third grade, Multiplication has priority—even if students have not mastered Addition and Subtraction.  Multiplication facts are so integral to the rest of higher math that students are even more crippled without Multiplication facts than they are having to count Addition and Subtraction problems on their fingers.  So do Multiplication first. Then, if there’s time, students who need to do so can go back and master Addition and Subtraction.  Once all three of these basic operations are under their belts, students can go on to 10s, 11s, 12s in Multiplication (one of the Optional Programs).  If students successfully progress through each program and there is enough time left in the school year, introduce the Factors program next.

Fourth grade math facts: Learn Multiplication and Division

Like the programs for third graders, there aren’t any Alternative Programs available for fourth graders. There are only Basic and Optional Programs, which include:

  • The Basic Program
    • (1s-9s) Multiplication (priority)
    • (1s-9s) Division (second priority)
  • Optional Programs
    • 10s, 11s, 12s Multiplication
    • Factors

In fourth grade, students need to have completed Multiplication before going on to Division. If they complete Division, they can go on to 10s, 11s, 12s Division, followed by Factors, and then equivalent fractions (shown in the fifth grade section below).

Fifth grade math facts: Learn all basic operations first, then they can branch out

By fifth grade, students should have completed all four basic operations (1s-9s) within the Basic Program (or the Alternative Program for grades one and two).  If students have not completed these basics (and cannot test out of them with the Placement Probes) then the sequence they should follow is Multiplication, followed by Division, then go back and complete Addition followed by Subtraction.  The same recommendations hold for students in any grade after fifth.

Once students have mastered the basics (1s-9s add, subtract, multiply, divide), the supplemental pre-algebra programs are recommended.  These will help more than learning the 10s, 11s, 12s facts.  I would recommend this order:

  1. Factors
  2. Equivalent Fractions
  3. Learning to Add Integers
  4. Learning to Subtract Integers or Mixed Integers

How to Grade 1-Minute Math Fluency Practice Tests

Katy L from Wilson Elementary asks: How can I keep up with everyday Rocket Math grading? Do you teach students to grade their own 1-minute math fluency practice tests?

Dr. Don answers:

Only grade 1-minute math fluency practice tests if students pass

An integral part of the Rocket Math Worksheet Program is the 1-minute math fluency practice test. One-minute fluency practice tests are administered every day, to the whole class, and only after students practice in pairs for two to three minutes each. Check out the FAQs page to learn more about conducting 1-minute math fluency practice tests in class.

Teachers do NOT need to grade, score, or check daily Rocket Math 1-minute math fluency practice tests unless the student has met their goal. Students do NOT need to grade their own daily Rocket Math fact fluency tests either.

Why grading each math test is not important

The important part of math fluency practice is the oral practice with the partner before the test–what’s going on in this picture. Because the students are orally practicing every day and getting corrections from their partners, there should be VERY FEW errors on the 1-minute math fluency written tests.  

Correcting written tests doesn’t help students learn anyway. Corrections are only helpful if they are immediate, the student has to acknowledge the correct answer, and remember it for a few seconds–all of which is part of the oral correction procedure. “Correcting” what’s on the paper takes a lot of time and does not help students learn more, so it shouldn’t be done. But you have to check them before declaring that the student has passed a level.

How do you know if a student passes?

Students should have a packet of 6 sheets math fact fluency sheets at their level. Each Rocket Math student has an individual goal. For example, if a student has a goal of 32 (based on their Writing Speed Test) and they only do 31, they know they did not pass. If the student does 32 or more, they pass!

What to do when a student beats their goal (passes)

If a student meets or beats their goal, then have them stand up, take a bow, and then turn their folder into a place where you check to see that all problems were answered correctly. When YOU check (after school?), make sure all of the completed problems were correct and the student met their goal. If so, then you put the unused sheets in that packet back into the filing crate and re-fill the student’s folder with a packet of 6 worksheets at the next level and hand the folder back the next day.

When students receive the new packet of worksheets, they know to color in another letter on the Rocket Chart (and maybe put a star on the Wall Chart).

What to do if a student doesn’t pass?

Students who don’t meet their goals, don’t pass. These students should put the non-passing sheet into their backpacks and take the sheet home for more practice.

The next day they will use the next sheet in their packet of 6. If you want to give them points, do that the next day after they bring back their worksheet where they did a session at home (signature of helper should be there) and all items on the test are completed. If that’s done, they get full points.

Sometimes you’ll catch errors on sheets that students turn in as “passes.” If you see an error, the student doesn’t pass. As a result, the student keeps the old packet and has to continue with that same level worksheet.

For more information about conducting 1-minute math fluency practice tests in class and how to implement the Rocket Math worksheet program, visit the FAQs page.

Adding Teacher Managers to Online Game

The person who first sets up the account is the owner (probably you).
The owner is automatically the first teacher.
 
Next, if you need help, you can set up additional teachers and give them subscriptions.
Go to the Teacher Mgr page by clicking on the Teacher Managers link in the left hand navigation.
Then click the blue Add Teacher Mgr button in the upper right.
You’ll see this dialog box (below) in which you enter the name and email. Don’t worry if you give them the wrong number of subscriptions.  When you enter the csv file with the student logins, there is a place to enter the teacher for each student.  The system will increase the number of subscriptions given to each teacher if necessary to accommodate what is in the csv file.
When you hit the green “Create” button the system will create a password for that teacher and email it to the email you entered for them.  It’s a hard password, so they might want to change it.
Don’t wait too long to let the teacher know about the incoming information or they’ll miss the email and won’t know how to enter the system.
Repeat as needed to add more Teacher Mgrs to help you monitor students.
Next, you will go on to assign student login information to your “unassigned” subscriptions so the students can login and play.

Choose a Learning Track for Online Game

Choose from ten Learning Tracks

In the Rocket Math Online Game every student needs to be started in one of the ten Learning Tracks.  A student’s Learning Track can be changed at any time**, but one must be chosen to begin with.

If you are entering the Student Login individually, you can use the pull down menu to select a learning track, as illustrated to the right.

The ten learning tracks are numbered as follows. If you are using the csv method of entry you’ll need to enter the number for the track.

  1. Addition 1s through 9s
  2. Subtraction 1s through 9s
  3. Multiplication 1s through 9s
  4. Division 1s through 9s
  5. Fact Familes (1 to 10) add and subtract, ex.4+5, 5+4, 9-4, 9-5
  6. Fact Families (11 to 18) add and subtract, ex. 8+7, 7+8, 15+7, 15-8
  7. Add to 20, example 13+4, 4+13,
  8. Subtract from 20, example 15-3, 15-12,
  9. Multiplication 10s-11s-12s,
  10. Division 10s-11s-12s.

You can click below to see a google document showing all the problems learned in each of the Learning Tracks.

Click to see the problems in the tracks.

Considerations, or what to choose when?

Begin with the basics.  The four basic operations are most important and typical expectations is one of those per grade level, so Addition in first, Addition then Subtraction in second, Multiplication, then go back to Addition and Subtraction in third, and Multiplication then Division in fourth grade, and then going back to get Addition and Subtraction if those haven’t been learned.  Make sure your student have worked through the expected basic operations for their grade level BEFORE doing any of the other optional Learning Tracks.

Another way to learn basic Addition and Subtraction Facts.  Learning in Fact Families is another order to learn. Fact Familes (1 to 10) add and subtract would be chosen in first grade.   Fact Families (11 to 18) add and subtract would be mastered in second grade.  You can choose this sequence instead of the basic addition and basic subtraction fact Learning Tracks.   Optionally, Fact Families is also a good way to review for students who have already learned the basic addition and subtraction facts in first or second grade.

Optional Learning Tracks. Add to 20 and Subtract from 20 are additional problems that the Common Core feels should be committed to memory.  They are composed of facts you can figure out if you know the basic 1s through 9s facts, but can be learned AFTER the basics are learned, if there is time in first or second grade.  They should not be assigned until after the student has mastered the basic 1s through 9s addition and subtraction facts.

After students learn the basic 1s through 9s multiplication facts, if there is time, they can move on to 10s, 11s, 12s.  After basic 1s through 9s  division facts are learned (and all the other basic operations are learned) then the 10s, 11s, and 12s are a good use of time.

 

**See “How to change Learning Tracks” in the FAQs and Directions document.

Intervention Tip: Have students practice test

Sometimes students need to review test problems also.

You know that there is a difference between the test problems and the practice problems, right?  The problems practiced around the outside are the recently introduced facts.  The problems inside the test box are an even mix of all the problems taught so far.  Sometimes students have forgotten some of the older facts.  For example, if there has been a break for a week or more, or if the student has been stuck for a couple of weeks, the student may have forgotten some of the facts from earlier and may need a review of the test problems.

How you could diagnose for this problem.  Have the student practice orally on the test problems inside the box with you.  If the student hesitates on several of the problems that aren’t on the outside practice, then the student needs to review the test items.

Solution. If you have this problem with quite a few students (for example after summer break or after Christmas break) then have the whole class do this solution.  For the next week, after practicing around the outside, instead of taking the 1 minute test in writing, have students practice the test problems orally with each other.  Use the same procedures as during the practice—two or three minutes with answer keys for the test, saying the problem and the answer aloud, correction procedures for hesitations, correct by saying the problem and answer three times, then going back—then switch roles.   Do this for a week and then give the one-minute test.   Just about everyone should pass at that point.

Solution.  If you have this problem with a handful of students, find a time during the day for them to practice the test problems orally in pairs.  If the practice occurs before doing Rocket Math so much the better, but it will work if done after as well.  They should keep doing this until they pass a couple of levels within six days.

If neither the first or the second solutions seem to work, write to me again and I’ll give you some more ideas.

Why give the Two-Minute timings in Rocket Math?

To prove whether students are making progress in learning math facts.

First of all, understand that the two-minute timings are NOT a teaching tool.  They are an assessment tool only.  Giving a two-minute timing of all the facts in an operation every week or two allows you to graph student performance.  You graph student performance to see if it is improving.  If the graph is going up, as in the picture above, then the student is learning.   If the graph is flat, then the student is not really learning.

The individual graphs should be colored in by students allowing them to savor the evidence of their learning.  The graphs should be shared with parents at conference time to prove that students are learning.  

Progress monitoring with two-minute tests are a curriculum-free method of evaluating a curriculum.  If you use the same tests you can compare two methods of learning facts to see which one causes faster growth.  This makes for a valid research study.

This kind of progress monitoring over time is also used in IEPs.  You can draw an aimline from the starting performance on the two-minute timing to the level you expect the student to achieve by the end of the year.  (Note the writing speed test gave you goals for the two-minute timing which you could use for your end-of-year goal.) The aimline on the graph, when it crosses the ending date of each quarter, will provide quarterly objectives that will enable quarterly evaluation of progress–required for an IEP.

These two minute timings are a scientifically valid method of proving whether students are learning math facts, in the same way that tests of oral reading fluency prove whether students are learning to read.  They can be used to prove to a principal or a curriculum director, for example, that Rocket Math is working and is worth the time, paper and money it requires.

 

Why should you renew your Rocket Math subscription?

Reason #1 to renew.

So I can be here for you.  Your subscription enables me (Dr. Don) to be available to work full-time on Rocket Math.  I can be here to answer your questions, help you with your implementation, provide customer service and to continue to expand our offerings.  Every day I correspond with and often get to talk with customers who have questions and need help. In the past year, I’ve added programs such as Add to 20, Subtract from 20, Fact Families, Skip Counting and others to the Universal Subscription. (Check out the list on this link.) I am quite excited about the three new programs (Learning Addition ComputationLearning Subtraction Computation, and Learning Multiplication Computation) that I’ve recently added to the Universal subscription.  (Check ’em out using the links.) Additionally, I have added tools such as the classroom wide aimlines in Excel to keep track of the progress of your whole class.  Most exciting of all, I have a team developing a browser-based Rocket Math game that students will be able to use at home and at school with one log-in. Your subscriptions make all of that possible.  Thank you.

Reason #2 to renew. 

You get permission to copy.  The second reason to renew is that the subscription gives you “permission to copy” the materials for a limited time.  After the subscription expires, permission to copy the materials also expires (it is no longer granted).  As you can see, the footers on our materials now show your name and the expiration date.  In order to continue printing and copying the Rocket Math worksheets, I ask that you please renew your subscription.

Reason #3 to renew.

You can access our filing cabinet.  The third reason to renew is so that you continue to have access to the Rocket Math filing cabinet on the web.  New and updated materials are constantly being added to the filing cabinet. The materials now number in the thousands of pages!
 You can much more easily print from the website filing cabinet, than you can from a paper master copy.  You can print from home and even print from your phone.  When anyone finds an error in one of the thousands of worksheets, I can change it the same day in this virtual filing cabinet.  When anyone asks for a new form I can share it with everyone instantly.

Keeping track of progress in Rocket Math

Which students are progressing as fast as they should be in Rocket Math?

And how fast should they be progressing, anyway?

Over the years of helping teachers and schools implement Rocket Math I have learned that a complete laissez-faire attitude about student progress can mean that some students get stuck for weeks on the same sheet.  Needless to say, students who get stuck, come to hate Rocket Math.  When this happens, those students don’t get through all the operations they should learn.  So we need to intervene, and give them more help.  It turns out that some students need more practice, sometimes two or three times more practice, to learn the facts than their peers.  To get such students through one operation a year means they have to have extra practice sessions scheduled in each day.  Here’s a link to a blog about how to provide extra help.

But which students need extra practice sessions?   Under Resources/Educator Resources I’ve created two versions of a tool that can help.

Whole Class Excel Rocket Math (2 operations in a year) Aimline.  This is pictured to the right.  It is needed for 2nd grade and 4th grade and up when students need to finish one operation and do a second one in a year.  The expectations needed to pass two operations in one year are basically that students should pass two sets each week.  If they have studied some the year before, they will be able to pass sets in the first operation at a quick pace.  For example if they have done much of Rocket Math Addition in first grade, in second grade they should be able to pass those addition sets again in a day or two.  That will put them ahead of the expectations and they should have a plus by their name most of the year.  Conversely, if they are not able to pass sets quickly, (see the students highlighted in yellow) they will get a minus by their name and should start getting extra sessions scheduled daily.

How does the Excel Aimline work?

Please note: The pictured EXAMPLE Rocket Math Excel Aimline is available from the link or in the Resources/Educator Resources page for you to download. 

Take the blank template and save it for next year.  Then fill out one for this year.  Look at a calendar and on row 4 enter the month and on row 5 enter the starting day of each week in the school year.  so each column numbered 1 through 36 will correspond to a week in your school year.  In row 7 you see the green expected set to be passed by the end of that week.  At the end of week 1 we expect that students will have at least passed Set A.   By the end of week 2 they should have passed Set C to be on pace to finish two operations in a year.

Entering student names.  Starting in row 10 you enter the student names in column B.  This class only has ten students, but I’m guessing yours probably has more!   Cool thing about excel is you only have to enter those names once.  And if you’re really good you can freeze that column so you can easily see it later in the year.

Entering weekly information.  Each week grab all the student folders and for each student enter the highest set they have passed.  You can see that from the Rocket Chart on the outside of the folder, so you don’t even have to open the folders.  If the letter they have passed is equal or higher than the green set expected at the top of the column for that week, then put a plus by the letter they have passed.

Look at Alvin Ailey at the top of my class list.  Week 1 he had passed both Set A and B, so I wrote “B” in his square.  I put a plus because it is exceeds the expected level for the first week.  By the second week he had also passed Sets C and D.  Only up to “C” is expected,  so I wrote “D” and also gave him a plus.  Alvin is rocking it!

Look at Cindy Crawford a little further down the class list.  Week 1 she had passed Set A, so I wrote an “A” in her she got a plus because she met the expectation.  But by week 2 she had only passed Set B, when C is expected to be passed, so I wrote “B” in her square, with a minus indicating she is below expectation.  Now I highlighted her square yellow, but that’s kind of advanced so you don’t really have to do that.  Only Excel experts can do that, although it really makes it easy to pick out who needs help.  We can see that Cindy continues to make slow progress and continues to get minuses.  She needs to have extra practice sessions scheduled to finish two operations this year.  That pace is fine for one operation per year, but not two.

Look down at Gary Grummond.  He didn’t pass even Set A by the end of the first week so I wrote “np” in the first square.  He continues to make progress the next few weeks, but not fast enough to complete two operations in a year.

Row 8 Fraction of students meeting expectation.    After entering all the students for the week you can see how you are doing overall in your class.  Make a fraction with the numerator being the number of students who are meeting the expectation over the denominator of the number of students in the class.  You want a high fraction nearer to 1.

If that fraction falls below 70%, meaning more than 30% of your class is not on track, then you should institute a class-wide intervention.  Either add an extra practice session each day, or see if there is room to improve the quality of practice.  See these blogs and posts about how to monitor for the quality of practice.

Whole Class Excel Rocket Math (1 operatipon per year) Aimline.   In grades 1 and 3 where students are expected only to complete one operation in a year, you can use this Excel Aimline.  The expectations needed to pass one operations in a year are basically that students should pass one set each week.   Everything else about how you use the excel form is the same.  Note that if you want students to do two operations in the year (for example both subtraction and multiplication in 3rd grade) then you would use the two operation aimline.

 

How long should I allocate for Rocket Math daily?

Jessica asks:

As I am planning my daily schedule I am looking for how long I should set aside for Rocket Math each day.  What do you suggest?

Dr. Don answers: 

If you allocate 15 minutes a day for Rocket Math that will be enough.  You might have trouble meeting finishing that quickly in the beginning before the routine is established.  But once the routine is set there is no need to take more time than that–each partner of the pair is practicing for 2 to 3 minutes and the test takes only one minute.  Don’t try to have everyone correct their partners papers as that will take too long.  Making sure that students practice every day with their partner is critical to success, so anything that makes you feel “we don’t have time for Rocket Math today” is harmful to student learning.

The other key is to be sure to teach students how to practice with each other.  If you can train your students to correct hesitations you will accomplish a lot with your Rocket Math practicing time.  Please take a look at my video on “How to teach students how to practice.”   Take the time allocated to Rocket Math for the first several days of school and follow this teaching procedure.  It will pay off for you all year long in improved learning during Rocket Math time.