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.

Without the directions you may get lost!

What happens when teachers don’t have a copy of the Rocket Math Teacher Directions?  Bad things!  

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!


Rush help to those who need it with an aimline

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.



How should students practice math facts?

Students should practice with a checker holding an answer key. 

  • One student has a copy of the PRACTICE answer key and functions as the checker while the practicing student has the problems without answers. The practicing student reads the problems aloud and says the answers aloud. It is critical for students to say the problems aloud before saying the answer so the whole thing, problem and answer, are memorized together. We want students to have said the whole problem and answer together so often that when they say the problem to themselves the answer pops into mind, unbidden. (Unbidden? Yes, unbidden. I just kinda like that word and since I am writing this, I get to use it.)
  • A master PRACTICE answer key is provided—be sure to copy it on a distinctive color of paper (yellow in the picture) to assist in classroom monitoring. The distinctive color is important for teacher monitoring. If you are ready to begin testing and you see yellow paper on a desk, you know someone has answers in front of him/her. When you make these distinctively colored (there, I said it again) copies, be sure to copy all of the answer sheets needed for a given operation and staple them into a booklet format…one for each student who is working in that operation. For some reason (I actually know the reason) teachers always want to find a way to put the answer keys permanently into the students’ folders. DON’T. Students need to be able to hold these in their hot little hands, outside of their folders. Then answer keys will be the same regardless of the set of facts on which a student is working. So students working on multiplication will have the answers to ALL the practice sets for multiplication. This allows students from different levels to work together without having to hunt up different answer keys.
  • The checker watches the PRACTICE answer key and listens for hesitations or mistakes. If the practicing student hesitates even slightly before saying the answer, the checker should immediately do the correction procedure, explained below. (Let’s stop here. This is critical. Critical, I tell ya. This correcting hesitations thing is sooooo important. I mean really important. You can probably guess why. We need students to be able to say the answer to these problems without missing a beat — not even half a beat. So students must be taught that there is no hesitation allowed. Really.) Of course, if the practicing student makes a mistake, the checker should also do the correction procedure.
  • The correction procedure has three steps:
    1. The checker interrupts and immediately gives the correct answer.
    2. The checker asks the practicing student to repeat the fact and the correct answer at least once and maybe twice or three times. (I recommend three times in a row.)
    3. The checker has the practicing student backup three problems and begin again from there. If there is still any hesitation or an error, the correction procedure is repeated. Here are two scenarios:

Scenario One
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.)

Scenario Two
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.)

  • This correction procedure is the key to two important aspects of practice. One, it ensures that students are reminded of the correct answers so they can retrieve them from memory rather than having to figure them out. (We know they can do that, but they will never develop fluency if they continue to have to “figure out” facts.) Two, this correction procedure focuses extra practice on any facts that are still weak.
  • Please Note: If a hesitation or error is made on one of the first three problems on the sheet, the checker should still have the student back up three problems. This should not be a problem because the practice problems go in a never-ending circle around the outside of the sheet. Aha…the purpose for the circle reveals itself!
  • Each student practices a minimum of two minutes. The teacher is timing this practice with a stopwatch…no, for real, time it! After a couple of weeks of good “on-task” behavior you can “reluctantly” allow more time, say two and a half minutes. Later, if students stay on task you can allow them up to about three minutes each. Make ‘em beg! If you play your cards right (be dramatic), you can get your students to beg you for more time to practice their math facts. I kid you not. I’ve seen it all over the country…really!
  • After the first student practices, students switch roles and the second student practices for the same amount of time. It is more important to keep to a set amount of time than for students to all finish once around. It is not necessary for students to be on the same set or even on the same operation, as long as answer keys are provided for all checkers. If students have the answer packet that goes with the operation they are practicing and their partner is on a different operation, they simply hand their answer packet to their partner to use for checking. I know what you are thinking. Yes, I realize that “simply handing” something between students is often fraught with danger. I was a teacher too. All of the parts of the practice procedure will need to be practiced with close teacher monitoring several (hundreds of) times prior to beginning the program. Not really “hundreds,” but if you want this to go smoothly, as with anything in your classroom, you will need to TEACH and PRACTICE the procedural component of this program to near mastery. Keep reading. I will tell you HOW to do this practice. (This is VERY directive.)
  • The practicing student should say both the problem and the answer every time. This is important because we all remember in verbal chains.
  • Saying the facts in a consistent direction helps learn the reverses such as 3 + 6 = 9 and 6 + 3 = 9.
  • To help kids with A.D.D. (and their friends) the teacher can make practice into a sprint-like task. “If you can finish once around the outside, start a new lap at the top and raise your fist in celebration!” Recognize these students as they start a second “lap” either with their name on the board or oral recognition — “Jeremy’s the first one to get to his second lap. Oh, look at that, Mary and Susie are both on their second laps. Stop everyone, time is up. Now switch roles and raise your hand when you and your partner are ready to begin practicing.”

Can’t I copy answer keys for half the students?

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.

Can a few minutes of fact practice each day be harmful?

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.