Here is a link to a quick, one-minute explanation of the paper-and-pencil version of Rocket Math.
using Rocket Math with a
(normally $49 a year).
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.
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.
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.
When teachers don’t have the written directions to Rocket Math, the essence of the program usually gets lost. Procedures get modified and modified over the years until they are not even close to what should be occurring. Sometimes we have found schools that are not even providing daily oral practice. Other schools don’t give the answer keys to the peer tutors. Other schools don’t give the writing speed test and make up impossible-to-reach goals for students. We often see teachers implementing the “Rocket Math” program incorrectly and wondering why it doesn’t work. We ask them if they have read the teacher directions, and they say they didn’t know there were any. When teachers have never seen the directions, is it any wonder they don’t know what they are supposed to be doing? Hear-say directions handed down over the years from one teacher to another just don’t convey all the important details. Teachers need the directions!
This is why I’d like you to have my complete directions for free. Even if you purchased Rocket Math ten years ago and haven’t gotten the updated versions since then, you can have these directions for free. I have them in three places. I have the directions broken out into FAQs on their own web page here. That’s easy for quick reference.
The second place I have the Teacher Directions is as a downloadable booklet you can print out and distribute. The Rocket Math Teacher Directions for the worksheet program booklet is here. Please print this out and give to your teachers, especially in schools that began implementing several years back. Read them and have a discussion at a professional development time. You will be astounded at how much your implementation differs.
The third place I have the Teacher Directions is in the “filing cabinet on the web” for those of you who have the subscription. In the “Forms and Information” drawer we have the booklet and the FAQs which can be opened and printed out.
In school-wide implementations of Rocket Math, principals or math coaches need to take a leadership role. The Administrator and Coach Handbook gives you forms with what to “look-for” in a Rocket Math implementation. If you use that to observe Rocket Math in your classrooms you’ll quickly see whether or not things are going the way they should. If you have a subscription to Rocket Math you’ll find all of the chapters of the Administrator and Coach Handbook in the “Forms and Information” drawer of our filing cabinet on the web.
Please take the time to see that you or your teachers are implementing Rocket Math according to the directions. Trust me, it works SO MUCH BETTER if you do. I wouldn’t steer you wrong!
The sooner you provide extra help the easier it will be to catch them up.
How can you know when students need help to meet expectations? Use the graph above, which is available from the Educator’s Resources page or here: One Semester Aimline. It is also available in the basic subscription site, Forms and Information Drawer as an optional form. It is an “aimline” for finishing an operation (Sets A-Z) in one semester. Schools that don’t start Rocket Math in first grade need students to finish addition in the first semester of 2nd grade and subtraction in the second semester. This means that students who get stuck on a level for even a week need to be helped.
If you indicate on this graph the week in which the student finishes each set in Rocket Math you can tell if the student is making enough progress, or if he/she needs to be getting extra practice sessions each day. If the student is working on a set above the line of gray boxes or on the line then progress is adequate–they are on track to finish the operation by the end of 18 weeks of the semester. But if the student is working on a set that is below the line that means he/she needs intervention.
In the example above the student whose progress is shown in red is above the aimline. That student has been passing at a rate that means he or she will finish the operation by completing Level Z by the end of the semester. That student does not need any extra intervention. In the example above the student in blue is falling behind. By the fourth week that student has only passed Level C and so he needs to have extra help.
The first step would be to ensure this student has a good partner and is practicing the right way. Sometimes students don’t stay on task or do not listen and correct their partner. If hesitations are allowed (while the student figures out the answer) and not corrected the student will not improve. Fix the practice in class first and see if the rate of passing improves and the student starts to get up to the aimline.
The second step is to include this student in a group of students who get a second practice session each day. They would work in pairs and do another Rocket Math session each day. Whether or not they take tests is unimportant. What is important is that they do the oral practice with a partner who corrects their hesitations as well as their errors. This could be done by a Title One teacher or assistant or a special education teacher or assistant. It should only take ten minutes.
Another step is to involve parents if that’s possible. Another practice session (or two) at home each evening would make a big difference. Parents will need to know how to correct hesitations, but there’s a parent letter in the Forms and Information drawer for that. Also note that siblings can do this practice as well, as long as they have an answer key.
You will be pleasantly surprised at how an extra few minutes a day of good quality practice can help students progress much faster at Rocket Math. The sooner you intervene, the easier it will be for the student to catch up.
NOTE: There is an aimline for finishing one operation in a year. It is also in the Forms and Information drawer and on the Educator’s Resources page of our website. If you follow recommendations and do addition in first grade, subtraction in second, and multiplication in third you can use that aimline. It won’t require intervening on so many students.
Students should practice with a checker holding an answer key.
Student A: “Five times four is eighteen.”
Checker: “Five time fours is twenty. You say it.”
Student A: “Five times four is twenty. Five times four is twenty. Five times four is twenty.”
Checker: “Yes! Back up three problems.”
Student A: (Goes back three problems and continues on their merry way.)
Student A: “Five times four is … uhh…twenty.”
Checker “Five times four is twenty. You say it.”
Student A: “Five times four is twenty. Five times four is twenty. Five times four is twenty.”
Checker: “Yes! Back up three problems.”
Student A: (Goes back three problems and continues on their merry [there is a lot of merriment
in this program] way.)
Shane asks: After the answer keys are copied onto colored paper, can’t I just make enough copies of answers for half the students? It seems that they will only be using the answer keys while working with a partner and therefore will only need 1 set of keys per pair.
Dr. Don answers: Lots of people think this, but here are four examples of issues that make it preferable for each student to have their own answer key, and yes, it should be on colored paper.
1) When students are absent you must pair two students but under the one-answer-key-per-pair both students could be “without” answer keys! In both cases, their partner has the answer key and that folder is in their desk.
2) When someone comes in to help or volunteer, you want Johnny to practice Rocket Math with that person–but Johnny doesn’t have an answer key–his partner does. So Johnny has to go searching for an answer key. If Johnny had his own answer key he could just get out his Rocket Math folder and go to work.
3) The Title 1 or Special Ed teacher or instructional assistant might offer to do extra practice with a student, the student takes his/her folder down to the a place to practice–but doesn’t have an answer key.
4) Alex moves up to division, but his partner doesn’t have an answer key to division–another example where Alex needs his own answer key.
Practice is not harmful as long as students are successful.
The best way to practice math facts is by saying them aloud to a person who can tell you if you’re wrong or hesitant in your responses. If you are wrong or hesitant, you should practice on that particular fact a bit more until you know it well. This is an effective way to learn anything, including math facts. It is especially valuable if students are given a limited set of facts to learn at each step so they develop and maintain mastery as they learn. If practice is set up carefully, and students get positive feedback showing they are learning and making progress, it is enjoyable and motivating for students. This is the essence of Rocket Math. How in the world could this be harmful? Only by doing it wrong, and doing it wrong specifically in a way that students are not successful.
If teachers skip the practice and learning part and just give the tests–that would be harmful. Students won’t get a chance to learn and will experience failure. The daily oral practice is the heart of Rocket Math–it can’t be skipped!
Daily tests in Rocket Math determine if a student has learned the set of facts he or she is working on, and learned them well enough to have a new set to be added to memory. If students are not proficient in the facts they are working on now (proficient means being able to say a fact and its answer without any hesitation) then they will become overwhelmed with the memorization and will not be successful. So it is critical that teachers are certain (based on the daily tests) that students can answer all the facts up to that point without hesitation. Otherwise they will not be successful and it won’t be enjoyable.
Goals for those daily tests must be based on how quickly students can write. Slow writers must have lower goals. Fast writers must have higher goals. Every student’s goal should be “as fast as her fingers can carry her” and no faster. Arbitrarily raising those goals (expecting faster performance than possible) or arbitrarily lowering those goals (moving students on to the next set before they have mastered the previous set) will cause students to be unsuccessful.
If the checker does not listen and correct errors or hesitations, a student can practice incorrectly and learn the wrong fact. They can also fail to get the tiny bit of extra practice they need on a fact that they can’t quickly remember yet. If practice does not proceed as it should, then students will not learn as they should. Lack of success will make facts practice onerous or counterproductive. The teacher has to monitor students practicing carefully to make sure they are doing it the right way to be successful.
Rocket Math has very explicit instructions here and answers to FAQs here. I have a 3 hour training DVD here. I am available at [email protected] to answer questions. Practicing math facts ten minutes a day is NOT harmful, if we do it in the way that students are successful.
Hi Dr. Don,
We plan on using Rocket Math with our Summer School students in grades 3rd-8th. I know you recommend Multiplication for these students. We will only have these students for 12 days over the course of 3 weeks. Any thoughts on how you would implement it? Your opinion is greatly appreciated.
Yvonne K. Colland ELD – Instructional Technology Coach
Thank you, Yvonne,
Twelve days is VERY short, however students enjoy Rocket Math, if they don’t have to do it too long at one time. I would recommend three ten-minute sessions each day spread out as much as possible. So one at the start of the day, one in the middle and one just before going home. If there’s an hour or more between sessions students won’t mind. They can take it home and practice at home if they like.
The regular practice with a peer for 2-3 minutes, switch roles and take a test can be done in ten minutes.
The next thing you could do is set up the Game Center with the Race for the Stars Multiplication game set out. The Game Center has a poster for students names and they get to post their best time on each board of Race for the Stars. Students can put the 24 problems cards on each board down next to the answers as fast as they can with a partner timing them on the included (Silent!) stopwatch. When they beat their best time on the board they get to post the new time and put a star sticker over their previous time. That would stimulate a lot of practice. Right now we have a coupon code FreeGameWithCtr that gives you the Race for the Stars game free with the purchase of item #2112 Game Center with stopwatch ($49).
Finally, if your school has iPads, or if you can have students bring in iPads or iPhones, there is the Rocket Math Multiplication App that sells for $2.99 (half that if you purchase through the Apple Education VPP). Students can practice on that app for five minutes at a time and each device can support up to three students. Students love to play that game and you can print out Rocket Charts for them to keep track of their progress. If they can take it home they’ll be sure to practice more there.
I’m not certain you could get all the students through Level Z in the three weeks you have, but you could make a big dent in it. Most importantly they would know as many facts as they could learn which would put them ahead in learning the rest.