Eliminate test anxiety and timed tests with Rocket Math

Rocket Math without timed tests

Some students have a lot of test anxiety around timed tests.  They become anxious and visibly tense up on timed tests.  They actually get worse instead of better when being timed.  Parents and special education teachers hate to see that and often want to give up on teaching math facts.  Rather than give up, you can use the Rocket Math worksheets without doing any timing.  You don’t have to have your student work against the timer.  If the student is doing everything right during the practice with you, then whatever he or he gets to after six days of practice, will be good enough. Tell your student,

“Stop worrying, we aren’t going to do the timed tests anymore.” 

Your student should continue to practice by saying the facts aloud with the answers while you’re correcting any hesitations.  Corrections consist of you interrupting and saying the fact and the answer aloud, having the student say the fact and the answer aloud three times, backing up three problems and going at it again.  Have your student do that practice until they have gone around the outside twice instead of for a set amount of time.
After practicing around the outside, and before writing on the inside “One-Minute Test,” have your student also practice orally with you for all of the problems in the One Minute test. Use the same correction procedure.

The One-Minute test does not need to be timed.

Then each day, in place of the timed test, do this.  Let your student complete the sheet (the whole page) without working against the timer.  Write the answers as quickly as possible without errors.  Have the student do this, like I said, for six days and then they graduate to the next page. The only point of the timing is to see if the student has mastered all of those facts.  The student will have mastered the facts, if they do the practice correctly every day, so no need for timing at all, really. I have seen students with severe learning problems, who need to do a sheet a dozen times to reach a good level of fluency, but for almost everybody, six days is enough–especially if they will practice both the test and the outside thoroughly and correctly with an adult practice partner who keeps them on task.

If the student wants to do fewer than six days on a set, here’s how.

If your student ever stops being worried during the writing/testing time, you can ask if they’d like to be able to do fewer problems each day.  If so, here’s how to set goals.  You quietly use the timer on your phone and just mark where the student is on the test after one minute. Count how many were done in one minute and record it on the Rocket chart. Still have the student do all the problems, but keep track of how many they answer in the first minute.  By the sixth day you will see that the student has leveled off and hasn’t increased for a couple of days.  After counting what’s done in one minute on the last day of three sets, use whatever number they leveled off at, as the goal, and allow them to pass when they reach that goal.

How to set math fact fluency goals and objectives for IEPs

Setting IEP goals and short term objectives is a snap when you measure growth in fluency.  Not only are fluency growth goals easy to write and set, they are easy to measure and monitor.  You can adjust the intensity of the intervention ensuring the student can achieve the goals and objectives.   Finally, you’ll be able to demonstrate growth and improve student achievement.

Fluency with math facts ensures success in math

A student thinks through an equation by recalling their math facts.Math facts are a “tool skill” of mathematics.  Students need to be able to call math facts to mind instantly.  Students should not have to hesitate or stop to “figure out” single digit math facts.  This is a tool they need in order to do math assignments quickly and easily. Knowing math facts instantly enables students to concentrate better and learn math more easily than students who are distracted by figuring out facts.  Once students are fluent in math facts they can keep up successfully in regular math classes.

 

Test the student’s present level of performance (PLOP) on facts

It only takes a minute to have students take a timed test in an operation to see how well they know their facts. You want to know how many facts in that operation the student can answer in one minute.  Test first-grade students in addition and second-graders on subtraction. Starting in 3rd grade and up, multiplication has priority, so test and focus on multiplication facts for your IEP.  You can move on to other operations once multiplication facts are fluent.  Here is a link to a page with Rocket Math’s one-minute pre-tests in all four basic operations.  However, you can’t evaluate whether a given student is fluent until you know how fast they can write. Students who are fluent with facts can answer them about as fast as they can write.  But they cannot answer them any faster than they can write.

You must also test the student’s writing speed

You cannot set achievable goals of how many facts a student should answer in a minute without first knowing how fast they can write.  That sets the upper limit.  So test their writing speed by having them write a mix of one and two digit numbers for one minute.  See to the left, Rocket Math’s one-minute Writing Speed Test From the link you can print it out for free.  Once you know how fast your student can write you can evaluate their performance on the one-minute fluency tests.

Is math fact fluency an area of need?

Now that you know the student’s writing speed you can evaluate their present level of performance.  Rocket Math has a handy evaluation sheet you can use to determine if there’s a need.  Or you can do the math yourself.  If students answer math facts at a rate less than 75% of their writing speed, they are weak and math facts is an area of need. Putting math fact fluency on the IEP and working on it as a goal would be very helpful.  If the student can answer math facts at a rate that is 90% of their writing speed, they are strong and this is not an area of need.  Between 75 and 90% of their writing speed they are good, but could benefit from some more work.

Get a starting point on the progress monitoring measure

If you’re going to test every week with 1-minute timings and you have a bunch of those available, you already have a 1-minute timing starting point.  If you’re using the Rocket Math Worksheet Program as your intervention, it uses 2-minute timings to measure progress weekly, so you’ll want to use one of those for your starting point.  (You can’t just double the 1-minute score because students don’t usually keep up at the same rate for two minutes.)  So give one of the 2-minute timings, in the operation you’re going to focus on, to set a starting point.

Set the math fact fluency goal based on writing speed

Students who have successfully developed math fact fluency in an operation can write answers to math facts almost as fast as they can write. As fast as their fingers can carry them is the most you could expect.  You could set a goal at 80% of their writing speed. It would still be rigorous enough.  If they met that goal the student would be fluent in math facts.

You can do the math yourself from their writing speed test. The Rocket Math Worksheet Program has weekly progress monitoring 2-minute timings.  In that case, your student’s goal for the 2-minute timing is on the handy goal sheet ** that you put into each student’s folder.  You can see the student shown here filled in 24 boxes on the Writing Speed Test, so his or her goal for 2-minute timings would be 38 for the annual goal for the IEP.

 

Create a graph and draw an aimline from starting point to goal

Now the coolest thing about progress-monitoring a fluency goal is that it is easy to graphically see on a weekly basis if the student is on track to meet the goal.  You simply create a graph, with enough spots at the bottom for all the weeks in the year.  Next you put in the starting point performance in the first week of the graph (or whenever you tested).  Then put in your goal performance at the end of the year.  Then draw a line between those two points.  That line is called the aimline and is shown in the example at the top of this article.

The pictured student began at 29 problems in 2-minutes.  Their PLOP was 29 problems correct in 2 minutes.  The student had a writing speed of 40 problems in a minute.  Therefore 80% of that is 32 problems in a minute or 64 problems in two minutes by the end of the year.  The aimline is simply a straight line between those two.  You can see that the first couple of two-minute tests did not meet the aimline, but by the third test the student was right on track for meeting the goal by the end of the year.

Short term objectives (STOs) are set by the aimline

Once the aimline is drawn, the STOs are found by reading up from the date of the quarterly STO reporting date.  Wherever the aimline is on that date, that’s the STO.  In the example above the quarter 1 objective looks to be about 38 problems in two minutes.  The second quarter looks to be 45 problems in two minutes with the 3rd quarter at 53.  Very simple and easy to set and to read and report.  Since every student in Rocket Math should have a graph like this reporting to parents on a quarterly basis would be more more than showing them this graph.

What if they aren’t meeting the aimline?

In all the struggle with writing and evaluating IEPs many times we forget the purpose.  IEPs are designed to evaluate whether our intervention is adequate to meet the student’s needs.  So if the student is falling below the aimline or doesn’t make the STOs what are we supposed to do?  Wringing our hands or shaking our heads sadly at the IEP meeting at the end of the year is not what is supposed to happen.  Instead we are supposed to be using these goals as a way to determine if we need to intensify our intervention.

How do you intensify your intervention?

So if a student is not meeting the aimline when we monitor their progress we should re-double our efforts.  With Rocket Math that’s quite doable.  If the student is falling below the aimline for three weeks in a row, add another practice session each day.  The standard ten minutes a day for Rocket Math may not be enough for this student. So you need to arrange for them to get in another practice session each day.  Often a short trip to the Special Education room for a second quick session with the teacher or an aide will do the trick.  If two a day at school aren’t enough, maybe you can add one each evening at home.  Some students do need more practice to meet these goals.  The good news is that you can find out quickly with your graph and get going soon.

**The Goal Sheet was updated in 2021 to reflect the 80% expectation for IEP goals.  The update shows that students who can fill in 15 boxes in a minute can go ahead and do Rocket Math, while those who can only fill in 14 boxes are candidates for help with writing numerals in the Rocket Writing for Numerals Learning Track.

 

Instant assessment for basic math fact fluency: Ask ’em!

Teachers and parents often ask, “How do I know if my children need to study math facts?” Here’s an instant math assessment you can do to test them for math fact fluency. Ask a student a “hard one” such as, “What’s 9 times 7?” or if they are in first or second grade, “What’s 8 plus 9?” If they start counting on their fingers or hesitate while puzzling it out, they do not have “math fact fluency.” They need a program of systematic math facts practice until they know them all “by memory,” as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) say.

Math fact fluency means instant recall

A student thinks through an equation by recalling their math facts.Some teachers and schools teach “tricks” for remembering facts that are supposed to help children. However, they should at most be a temporary crutch. Such techniques need to be replaced with instant recall. The student shown here is using the commonly-taught “doubles plus one” trick for figuring out the answer to, “What’s 8 plus 9?” This is not fluency. He needs practice in math facts so they become “automatic” in recall. If he is still having to do this in fourth or fifth grade, he’ll find math work slow-going and drudgery. He’ll also find it hard to follow a math lesson when he has to stop and puzzle out simple facts like this.

Math fact fluency makes math easy

Students who know the math facts instantly can fly through their math assignments. They enjoy the exercise and feel good about their math abilities. On the other hand, students who have to count on their fingers, or use a number line or a times tables chart to do their math assignments come to hate math. It is so-o-o-o-o slow. I’m sad to say that when I taught elementary and middle school remedial students I knew they hated math because they had to puzzle out most of the facts. What else could I do but assign lots of math fact practice that they hated?

In graduate school, I learned how to design a math facts practice program in a way that every student can succeed in memorizing the facts. I put a paper-and-pencil program together back in the ‘90s and have been sharing it with people ever since. I called it Mastering Math facts, but everyone else just called it Rocket Math. That became its official name in 2007.

Teachers have been successfully using my nearly secret curriculum with wild success for decades. Oddly enough, students actually enjoy the Rocket Math Worksheet program. They enjoy the paired practice with a partner, and can actually see themselves learning and getting better.

Two students participating in one of Rocket Math's math fluency programs

How to assess students in math

Before you start Rocket Math’s Online Game or Worksheet Program, it’s a good idea to find out which operations your student needs to practice most. Rocket Math offers a few tests to identify where your student should start their Rocket Math journey.

 

Writing Speed Test

Many students aren’t able to write the answers to 40 problems in one minute, which is normal and doesn’t affect their math fact knowledge. Before administering the Operation Pretests, evaluate your student’s writing speed to make sure the results reflect your student’s true proficiency, and that they are not held back by their writing speed. 

Get the One-Minute Rocket Math Writing Speed Test.

 

Operation Pretests

Once your student has completed the Writing Speed Test, give them a pretest in one or more of the four basic operations. 

 

Evaluate Results 

For students in 3rd grade and above, test multiplication first and then division. If students struggle with either of those two operations, they should start learning those operations. For 3rd graders and above who don’t struggle with multiplication and division, test addition and subtraction to assess any weakness. For students in 1st and 2nd grade, test addition first and then subtraction. 

Evaluate your student’s results based on their individual writing speed with the Evaluation Chart for Pretests. Use their writing speed to determine if their performance on the Pretest is weak and shows a real need for work on math facts, or is good but could use some help, or strong and no practice is needed. 

Free Online Game subscription as long as you need to decide

There is no reason for students to be bogged down and discouraged by math, especially by lack of math fact fluency. This doesn’t need to happen to children. Every student is capable of memorizing basic math facts with a little effort and a carefully sequenced curriculum, like the Rocket Math Worksheet Program.

Or if a paper-and-pencil curriculum like the Rocket Math Worksheet Program involves standing at the copy machine, is not what you are looking for, Rocket Math is now online. The Online Game app starts with a complimentary initial subscription of 14 days. You can learn more about it at that link. Or you can just go ahead and register an account and start it on this link

 

Send an email to me at don at rocketmath.com and I’ll extend the complimentary subscription as long as you need to decide.** If you need one to ten seats it is a whopping $4.50 a seat for a year. Twenty or more seats are $2.50 each for the year and per-seat prices go down from there. Really there’s no reason to leave kids counting on their fingers.

Math Benchmarks: How to Help Your Students Meet Them

Every year, students enter a new math level with new math facts, but what should the students know by the end of each grade? How do teachers measure the success of their students? By using math benchmarks, teachers have a reference point to assess their students’ progress. Rocket Math Online Game and Worksheet Program are great tools to help students meet math benchmarks in every grade.

 

What are Math Benchmarks?

Math benchmarks are standard reference points that can be measured and assessed. Teachers use benchmarks in math to help understand where their students are in their math education and know where they need to be in order to succeed in their grade level.

 

1st Grade Math Benchmarks 

In 1st grade, students focus on learning addition and subtraction up to 20, whole number relationships and grouping, linear measurement and lengths, and geometric shapes.

1. Addition and subtraction up to 20.

1st grade students learn strategies to build math fact fluency for adding and subtracting whole numbers up to 20.

2. Whole number relationships and grouping in tens and ones.

1st grade students learn to compare the whole numbers at least to 100 and be able to understand and solve problems involving their relative sizes.

3. Linear measurement and measuring lengths.

1st grade students learn to understand the meaning and process of measuring including the concepts of iteration and transitivity principle for indirect measurement.

4. Compose and decompose geometric shapes.

1st grade students learn how to compose and decompose geometric shapes, like creating a quadrilateral by putting two triangles together. 

 

2nd Grade Math Benchmarks

In 2nd grade math students focus on developing students’ knowledge of base-ten notation, their fluency with addition and subtraction, standard units of measure, and analyzing shapes. 

1. Base-ten system

2nd grade students learn to count by fives, tens and multiples of hundreds, and learn to recognize which digits represent amounts of thousands, hundreds, tens or ones. E.g. 456 is 4 hundreds + 5 tens + 6 ones.

2. Addition and Subtraction up to 1000

2nd grade students develop their math fact fluency in addition and subtraction up to 1000.

3. Standard units of measure

2nd grade students learn standard units of measure and how to use rulers and other measuring tools.

4. Analyze Shapes

2nd grade students learn how to examine shapes by their sides and angles, and decompose and combine them.

 

3rd Grade Math Benchmarks

In 3rd grade students focus on developing their multiplication and division math facts up to 100, understanding fractions, understanding the structure of rectangular arrays and are, and how to analyze two-dimensional shapes.

1. Multiplication and division math facts up to 100

3rd grade students develop their math fact fluency of multiplication and division of whole numbers up to 100.

2. Fractions and unit fractions

3rd grade students learn unit fractions and fractions and are able to use them to represent numbers equal to, less than, or greater than one.

3. Attribute of two-dimensional regions

3rd grade students learn to find the area of a shape which shows the students how to connect the area to multiplication and how to use multiplication to determine an area of a rectangle.

4. Analyze and compare two-dimensional shapes

3rd grade students compare and classify two-dimensional shapes by their angles and shapes.

 

4th Grade Math Benchmarks

In 4th grade, students focus on developing their math fact fluency in multi-digit multiplication and division, learn math operations with fractions, and understanding geometric figures.

1. Multi-digit multiplication & division

4th grade students understand place value to 1,000,000 and know how to apply multi-digit multiplication and multi-digit division to mentally calculate quotients.

2. Fraction equivalence and operations

4thd grade students learn that two fractions can be the same (e.g. 12/16 = 3/4) and learn how to add, subtract, multiply and divide fractions.

3. Geometric figures

4th grade students learn to describe, analyze, compare and classify two-dimensional shapes. 

 

5th Grade Math Benchmarks 

In 5th grade, students focus on developing fraction operations, learn operations with decimals to 100, and develop an understanding of volume.

1. Math fact fluency of fraction operations

5th grade students learn to apply their understanding of fractions and fraction models to calculate sums and differences of fractions in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

2. Relationship between decimals and fractions

5th grade students learn to multiply and divide between decimals and fractions, and to compute quotients of decimals to 100.

3. Volume

5th grade students learn that volume is an attribute of three-dimensional space and can be measured by finding the total number of units that are needed to fill the space.

 

Not meeting Benchmarks: what should it mean?

When students score as “not meeting benchmark,” it means the school should provide some intervention to help the students learn.  When it comes to learning math facts, most students have had no opportunity to learn them in a systematic way. Unless they have had an extraordinary school or an unusual teacher, they have not received structured, systematic learning opportunities to memorize math facts. After three decades in schools, I know this to be the case. Without systematic practice and effort, most students will not meet math fact benchmarks. They won’t meet the Common Core expectation that students will “know [math facts] by memory.” Whose fault is that? It is not the student’s fault nor the parent’s fault. 

 

Are you certain your fluency intervention is effective?

The teacher and the school should provide, not just any “intervention” but should provide an effective intervention. Some so-called “interventions” do not reliably produce increased fluency. An essential part of using an intervention is to measure its effectiveness. [That’s why IEP goals are supposed to have measurable short-term objectives!] The best way to measure the effectiveness of a fluency intervention is with timed, curriculum-based fluency assessments.

By measuring the same way for the same amount of time period, you can see if fluency increases. If the student can complete more items during the timed test each time you measure, you can see their fluency increase. When a vast majority of your students, or all of your students, improve in fluency, then you can be certain that the intervention is effective.

 

Rocket Math Online Game is effective

Screenshot of Rocket Math's average student scores.

As students work through the levels in each Learning Track in the Rocket Math Online Game, they are periodically assigned fluency tests.  Students are tested after completing levels A, i, and R, and then after they finish level Z. Each test is a 1-minute fluency test of a random selection of facts taught in that Learning Track. Therefore the scores are comparable, and when the number goes up at each point in the curriculum, you can be sure that students are increasing in fluency. As you can see from the site-wide data shown here, students consistently improve in fluency as they work through the Rocket Math Online Game. You would not expect students to meet benchmarks until they have completed Set Z in the Learning Track.

 

Math fact fluency benchmark in the Online Game: 20/minute

Screenshot of Rocket Math's 1 minute results.

The 1-minute RACEs in the Rocket Math Online Game are a good way to measure math fact fluency. You can see from the site-wide averages above that on average, students exceed 20 per minute correct at Set Z, and the average at the beginning is much less. So a reasonable benchmark is 20 correct problems per minute.

The teacher can assign a 1-minute RACE at any time, and the student will need to do it upon their next login. The results will be available in the Review Progress screen and export from the button that gives “Results from Assigned races.” However, the best measure of whether students can meet the benchmark is after Set Z, when they have completed the Learning Track. By clicking on the pink button for exporting “Results from Scheduled races,” the score will appear.

A screen shot of an Excel spreadhseet that shows studen'ts multiplication benchmark progress.To the right is a screenshot of an example of the results from scheduled races from one class of upper elementary students. You can see the Account Average shows improvement at each level. If you set a benchmark at 25, you see all but one of the students met that by the end of Level Z. However, we do see several students who began above that level. (They need not have gone through the Learning Track, but most improved anyway.) After Set Z, those scores show that nearly all students are proficient by the end of the Learning Track. So we know that the Online Game is an effective intervention. But there’s a catch. For this display, we eliminated a lot of students who had not completed Set Z in Multiplication. Students have to play the game to learn.

 

Students must participate to learn: Monitor and Recognize Effort

A screenshot of Rocket Math's mini calendar that shows how students are progressing.Assigning an effective intervention will not help unless students are engaged and participate. Instead of reporting on benchmarks of academic achievement, why not report on benchmarks of effort? Each time students login and complete a session (five, ten, or fifteen minutes in length) on the Online Game, the Review Progress screen will record their session. A mini calendar shows the number of sessions per day. As shown in this screenshot, one student completed 7 sessions on the previous Friday. Another student completed 3 sessions on Sunday. The students below the hard workers, whose mini-calendars showed “F” for Friday and “S” for Sunday, did not complete any sessions because there was no number for those days.

A screenshot of Rocket Math's calendar to show how a student is progressing.Even more discriminative, the Review Progress screen shows the total number of sessions completed in the last two weeks. The picture shows data from our demo accounts. The one for Test3 shows 38 sessions in the last 14 days, while others have only 2 sessions. This total data tells us the level of effort students have been putting forth to learn their math facts. If you monitor this number and recognize students putting forth great effort, you’ll get more students participating. I would say that 10 to 14 sessions in the last two weeks are a good effort. 15 to 24 sessions is a very good effort. Any student with 25 or more sessions in the last two weeks is putting forth great effort and should be recognized as a star!

Screenshot of Rocket Math's reward cards.You might consider giving out Award Certificates once a month for students who are putting forth super-star effort. If you reward effort, we guarantee you’ll get achievement. We have sets of Award certificates available on our supplements store site. Soon after doing that, you’ll probably have to start awarding Learning Track certificates for students who are completing Learning Tracks. Those are available on the Admin page on the light blue tab in the main rainbow navigation bar.

 


Using Rocket Math to Help Students Reach Math Benchmarks

Rocket Math Online Game and Worksheet program will help students reach each grade level math benchmark. By systematically teaching students to be math fact fluency, they will be able to not only succeed but learn to enjoy math.

4th Grade Math Worksheets

By 4th grade, students need to stop counting on their fingers and be able to recall math facts immediately. If not, then they will find it hard to learn multiplication and division. Rocket Math offers 4th grade math worksheets that will push your students towards success and prepare them for 5th grade.

 

A student counts on his fingers while working through a math problem.

 

What should a 4th grader know in math?

By the end of fourth grade, students should have memorized all four basic operations of math facts: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Typically, students in fourth grade learn division. However, if your fourth grade students haven’t mastered multiplication, you must help them develop multiplication math fact automaticity first and then teach them, division, if there is enough time in the school year. Without math fact fluency in multiplication, students will struggle with division and learning all higher-order forms of math including algebra.

The only way for students to successfully memorize math facts is systematical. Practicing random math facts or playing math games will never help students memorize. They will simply count the facts out over and over again–coming to hate math. 

 

How how to measure math fact fluency

Not sure if your students are fluent in multiplication math facts and are ready to learn division? If you see a student counting on their fingers, it’s a sure bet they have NOT memorized these basic single-digit facts. If you don’t know for sure, here’s our free resource with all you need to pre-test students on math facts.

 

Why Rocket Math Worksheets help students develop math fact mastery 

Rocket Math’s Worksheet Program is very different from any other math facts practice worksheets. 

The program only teaches a couple of math facts at a time, helping students succeed every day.

Once students learn the correct answers, the Worksheet Program includes a lot of fast-paced practice. With this “learn first, practice second” method, students easily commit their math facts to memory.

The program is graduated and progressive. It mixes newly memorized math facts with previously memorized math facts, helping students develop over time the ability to answer more than 400 math facts instantly from recall.

When students develop automaticity (facts so well learned that their recall is instantaneous), all math becomes easier.

Two students using 4th grade math worksheets practice in class by asking each other questions from Rocket Math's worksheet program.

A unique component of the Worksheet Program is oral student practice. This allows students to receive corrective feedback from their partner, who has the answer key. You cannot learn without corrective feedback from either a person or a computer. Having teachers give corrective feedback by checking and grading written practice is very time-consuming, as well as being too late for effective learning. Having student partners with answer keys correct immediately, during practice, means teachers only have to grade check-point tests instead of monitoring daily practice–a huge plus for time-strapped teachers!

The Worksheet Program is designed to build strong multiplication fact fluency and recall. Memorizing these facts avoids the problem of students having to look up facts in times tables, over and over again.

 

How to teach MULTIPLICATION with Rocket Math’s 4th Grade Math Worksheets

Since many students begin fourth grade without mastery of multiplication facts, let’s start with Rocket Math’s first multiplication worksheet of Set A. As you can see, the worksheet has only “1 times” problems, such as 3 times 1, and 1 times 2. These are very easy, and students can typically answer them quickly, with no hesitation.

 

Screenshot of Rocket Math worksheet on multiplication math facts, set A.

 

First, students practice orally with a partner around the outside of the worksheet. For example, one student practices saying the problems and the answers while the other student offers corrections. You need to teach students that the checker’s role is to correct any fact that isn’t answered instantly without hesitation. The checker needs to follow this special correction procedure.

After two to three minutes of oral practice, students should switch roles and help their partner practice. 

Finally, all students take a one-minute test of these facts on the inside of the worksheet. They will be able to write the answers to those facts as fast as their fingers can carry them. 

 

Writing Speed Test

Before beginning the Worksheet Program, students need to establish goals with a writing speed test. Students who can answer the problems in the one-minute daily test at their established speed will pass on to learn the next set of facts the following day.

 

Screenshot of Rocket Math worksheet on addition fact family, set B.

Once your students master Set A, move on to Set B, then Set C, and so on. Get all of the Multiplication 1s to 9s worksheets from rocketmath.com. Each worksheet follows the same procedure:

  1. Students practice saying the answers to the “outer ring” problems out loud with a partner. 
  2. Partners follow the special correction procedure for any fact that isn’t answered instantly without hesitation. 
  3. After 2-3 minutes of partner practice, all students take a one-minute test of the recently learned facts located on the inside part of the worksheet.
  4. Students that answer the correct amount of math fact problems in 1 minute (based on their writing speed) progress to the next worksheet set. Students that fail the test, repeat steps 1-4 using the same worksheet set the following day.

It usually only takes students a few days to memorize a set.

 

Screenshot of Rocket Math worksheet on Division math facts set F.

How to teach DIVISION with Rocket Math’s 4th Grade Math Worksheets

Once your fourth graders master multiplication math facts, it’s time to teach them division.

To teach your fourth graders division with Rocket Math’s worksheets, use the Division 1s through 9s worksheet and follow the same procedure described in the previous section on multiplication.

The Common Core suggested that students learn math facts up through the 12s. Rocket Math has two Worksheet Programs that do just that. One is Multiplication 10s, 11s, 12s. and the other is Division 10s, 11s, 12s. Each builds upon and reviews facts from the 1s-9s program while keeping learning fun for students who learn faster and need additional challenges.

Graphic of family figures with the math fact family for 12, 3, and 4.

Fact Family Worksheets are another way to study facts

Fact families worksheets provide an alternative way for fourth graders to learn multiplication and division facts. A fact family in multiplication and division is 4 x 3, 3 x 4, 12 ÷ 3, and 12 ÷ 4. By learning these four facts simultaneously, students can internalize the reciprocal nature of multiplication and division. This is also a viable way for students to learn facts initially if that is the teacher’s preference. This can also be a great review for students who begin the year having mastered multiplication and division.

 

Screenshot of Rocket Math worksheet on addition and subtraction fact families up to 20.

Rocket Math Worksheet Program’s specially designed Fact Families

Much like Rocket Math’s single operation worksheets, each Fact Family worksheet in the Rocket Math program asks students to memorize only one fact family at a time. You can see the first fact family students learn in Set A is 1 x 2, 2 x 1, 2 ÷ 1, and 2 ÷ 2. Each set in this program introduces only one fact family to help students easily memorize fact families and work quickly through Sets A to Z.. 

Rocket Math’s Worksheet Program starts with the first level of Multiplication and Division Fact Families to 20, followed by Multiplication and Division Fact Families from 21. Practicing with fact families reinforces the reciprocal nature of multiplication and division and gives extra practice to increase fluency. 

Two students are using 4th grade math worksheets in class by asking each other a math question and testing each other.

4th grade worksheets for learning fractions and factor pairs

Rocket Math Worksheet Program works through a daily routine of oral practice with peers and one-minute tests to determine how fast a student should progress through the A to Z steps. By establishing a daily routine, students can use it to study fractions, factors, and decimals in the more advanced pre-algebra programs available in Rocket Math. These will seriously give students a “leg-up” when they come to pre-algebra concepts that students find slow or cumbersome.

 

Screenshot of Rocket Math worksheet on Identifying Fractions.

Identifying Fractions Worksheets

One such Rocket Math program is the Identifying Fractions Worksheet program. In it, students learn to identify pictures of proper fractions, improper fractions, and mixed numbers. Each A to Z set teaches a new set of three closely related fractions so that students learn to identify the fractions quickly and easily. Students learn this rule: Fractions have a top and a bottom number. The bottom number tells how many parts in each whole. The top number tells how many parts are shaded. When the whole figure is not divided into parts, it is a whole number. The program also presents whole numbers to identify mixed in with fractions. If you have ever seen students struggle with identifying fractions when they are looking at them, you’ll appreciate the power of these worksheets.

 

Screenshot of Rocket Math worksheet practicing the factors of 12 and 36.

Factors (how to find all the factor pairs) Worksheets

Rocket Math Worksheet Program Factors have worksheets to quickly teach students how to name all the factor pairs of common numbers. What are the factors of 36? Answer: 1 x 36, 2 x 18, 3 x 12, 4 x 9, 6 x 6. This is what students learn by memory. Here’s a blog about the foolproof method that students learn. Students practice with a partner, take a daily one-minute timing, fill in a Rocket Chart, just like regular Rocket Math. Simplifying fractions will be a breeze after students learn this easy method and practice finding all the factors of these common numbers.

Students learn all the factors for these numbers in this sequence: 12, 36, 24, 48, 18, 32, 16, 64, 10, 40, 20, 72, 8, 25, 50, 6, 21, 30, 60, 15, 45, and 100. Click here to learn “How to Factor” from Dr. Don’s Educreations lesson on the web.

A screenshot of the 4th grade math worksheet for equivalent fractions from Rocket Math's worksheet program.

 

Equivalent Fractions

Students need to know that six-eighths is equivalent to three-fourths and that four-twelfths is equivalent to one-third. While they can calculate these, it is very helpful to know the most common equivalent fractions by memory. One of the most common problems students have with fractions is not “reducing their answers to simplest form.”

Here’s a 5-minute Educreations lesson on How the Equivalent Fractions program works.

The Equivalent Fractions Worksheet Program is part of the Universal Level subscription to the Worksheet Program. Equivalent fractions will help students commit 100 common equivalent fractions to memory. Each set (A through Z) has four fractions, which are displayed on a fraction number line. Students frequently learn fractions equivalent to one, such as ten-tenths, and fractions that can’t be reduced. For example, three-fourths is equivalent to three-fourths. Using the fraction number line will help with students’ understanding of why those fractions are equivalent.

Click here for the full sequence of 100 Equivalent fractions that students will learn in this program.

Start Rocket Math’s Worksheet Program today

Rocket Math’s unique worksheet program is not only great at teaching fourth graders multiplication and division, but the program also offers beginning numerals, addition, subtraction, and pre-algebra concepts for ages K-12. Each worksheet follows the same effective methodology described in this article and is guaranteed to help your students memorize math facts. Get a Rocket Math Worksheet Subscription for your school or home today.

Quick links to all 4th grade math worksheets:

A Data-Proven Approach to Measuring Math Facts Fluency (That Kids Love!)

You know your student is building math facts fluency, but can you quantify it? With Rocket Math’s Online Game, you can track your student’s progress learning addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division (and 12 other Learning Tracks) from level A to Z. Progress is tracked numerically through 1-Minute Races so that you can compare results over time, between students, and across classrooms.

How Rocket Math’s 1-Minute Races Measure Math Fact Fluency

Starting in the Fall of 2020, the Rocket Math Online Game began scheduling 1-Minute Races for students as they worked through the 16 different Learning Tracks taught in the game.

The 1-Minute Races present a random selection of all the facts in each Learning Track. Students are encouraged to skip facts they haven’t learned, but the scores shown here are the correct answers. When a student completes sets A, i, R, and Z, the 1-Minute Races (also known as math facts fluency tests) are scheduled. We wait until after students complete set A to give the first pre-test, so we know the students know how to use the interface and answer questions.

As the chart below shows, Set A represents the average student’s starting score. Set i and R show intermediate progress. And finally, Set Z represents the average fluency students have achieved by playing through levels 26 A to Z in that Learning Track.

 

Average 1-Minute Race Scores of Students Playing the Rocket Math Online Game

 

The more correct problems per minute, the more fluent the learner. On average, by the end of a Learning Track students should aim for 20 to 30 correct problems per minute in the Online Game races. Want to learn more about how fast students should be with math facts? Read here.

Data show improved math facts fluency as students work through each Learning Track

As you can see above, there is a steady rise in fluency as students work through each Learning Track. Because fluency scores go up consistently at each measuring point, and they do so in every Learning Track, we can be sure that the Online Game is effectively developing fluency. 

Data shows improvement based on how many math facts answered per minute

The fact that on each teststudents can correctly answer more problems shows that they are learning, and the data proves it. That is very important, as you don’t purchase this game simply to entertain children. The goal is to help students achieve math facts fluency, and we are seeing that here. Individual results will, of course, vary.

Not only an excellent online math speed test but also an excellent tool for research

Teachers can also assign these 1-Minute Races at any time, or even on a weekly basis. The scheduled tests, however, show the best effect of the Online Game because the amount of work done to achieve the tests is equal among students. Both scheduled and teacher-assigned results are kept, and the results of these tests can be exported in excel files, so they are available for research purposes. We invite you to study your students’ math fact fluency using the Rocket Math Online Game and 1-Minute Races. One thing is certain from our data, the Rocket Math Online Game works!

Interested in trying out the Rocket Math Online Game? Register for a complimentary subscription today!

Best Math Facts Apps Comparison: Rocket Math vs. XtraMath

There are plenty of math facts apps out there that let students practice math facts they have already learned.  Few apps actually teach math facts.  But apps from Rocket Math and XtraMath are exceptions.  While both apps teach students math facts, one is more effective and fun.

The two best apps for actually teaching math facts

Math facts apps from Rocket Math and XtraMath effectively teach math facts because they have four essential characteristics:

  1. Both math facts apps require students to demonstrate fluency with facts.  Fluency means a student can quickly answer math fact questions from recall.  This is the opposite of letting a student “figure it out” slowly.  Neither app considers a fact mastered until a student can answer a fact consistently within 3 seconds.
  2. Both math facts apps zero in on teaching (and bringing to mastery) a small number of facts at a time.  This is the only way to teach math fact fluency. It’s impossible for students to learn and memorize a large number of facts all at once.
  3. Both math facts apps are responsive.  Apps simply do not teach if they randomly present facts or do not respond differently when students take a long time to answer a fact.
  4. Both math facts apps only allow students to work for a few minutes (15 minutes or less) before taking a break.  Teachers and parents may want to keep students busy practicing math facts for an hour, but students will come to hate the app if they have long sessions.  A few minutes of practice in each session is the best way to learn and to avoid student burnout.
  5. Both math facts apps re-teach the fact if a student makes an error.  While both Rocket Math and XtraMath re-teach facts, they re-teach them differently.

While both apps contain these important features and teach math facts, there are a few vital elements that make an effective app like Rocket Math standout.

An effective app gives a student a sense of accomplishment

The difficult thing about learning math facts is persevering.  There are so many to learn! It takes a while and students have to persevere through boring memorization tasks. The best way to help students learn their math facts is to give them a clear sense of accomplishment as they move through each task.

How XtraMath monitors progress

To develop a sense of accomplishment among its app users, XtraMath displays math facts on a grid.  XtraMath tests the student and marks the ones that are answered quickly (within 3 seconds) with smiley faces.  It takes a couple of sessions to determine what has been mastered and what hasn’t, so there isn’t a sense of accomplishment at first.  This grid is displayed and explained, but it’s not easy to monitor progress.  Over time, there are fewer squares with facts to learn, but there isn’t clear feedback on what’s being accomplished as students work.

How Rocket Math monitors progress

Conversely, Rocket Math begins recognizing student progress immediately and continues to celebrate progress at every step.  The Rocket Math app begins with Set A and progresses up to Set Z.  Each lettered set has three phases: Take-Off, Orbit, and the Universe.  That means there are 78 milestones celebrated in the process of moving from Set A to Set Z.

Take-Off phase has only 4 problems to learn.  They are repeated until the student gets 12 correct in a row.  When the student does that, the doors close (with appropriate sound effects) to show “Mission Accomplished.” They also are congratulated by one of a cast of voices.  Something along the lines of, “Mission Control here.  You did it!  Mission Accomplished! You took off with Set A!  Go for Orbit if you dare!”  With this type of consistent (and fun!) recognition, students clearly understand that they are progressing, and they get the chance to keep learning “if they dare!”

In addition to the three phases, students progress through the sets from A to Z.  Each time a student masters a set, by going through all three phases, the student gets congratulated and taken to their rocket picture, as shown above.  When a level is completed, the tile for that level explodes (with appropriate sound effects) and drops off the picture, gradually revealing more of the picture as tiles are demolished.

In the picture above, the tile for “N” has just exploded. After the explosion, a student is congratulated for passing Level N and encouraged to go for Level O if they dare.   When you talk to students about Rocket Math, they always tell you what level they have achieved.  “I’m on Level K!” a student will announce with pride.  That sense of accomplishment is important for them to keep chugging along. Rocket Math also has available Learning Track certificates from Dr. Don and the teacher for completing through Level Z.

An effective math facts app correct errors—correctly

Neither of these math fact apps allow errors to go uncorrected.  Students will never learn math facts from an app that does not correct errors.  That puts these two apps head and shoulders above the competition.  However, these two apps correct errors very differently.

How XtraMath corrects errors

On the left, you can see the XtraMath correction is visual.  If a student enters the wrong answer, the app crosses the incorrect answer out in red and displays the correct answer in gray.  A student then has to enter the correct answer that they see. This is a major mistake. In this case, students don’t have to remember the answer. They just have to enter the numbers in gray.

How Rocket Math corrects errors

Rocket Math, however, requires the student to remember the answer.  When a student answers incorrectly, the screen turns orange and Mission Control displays and recites the correct problem and answer.  In the pictured situation, Mission Control says, “Seven times nine is sixty-three.  Go again.”  Then the answer clears and the game waits for the student to enter the correct answer.  Under these conditions, the student has to listen to the correction and remember the answer, so they can enter it correctly.

Once the student correctly answers that target problem, the app presents the problem again.  Then it presents it twice more interspersed with other problems.

If the student answers the previously missed problem correctly within the three seconds, the game notes the error, and the student continues through the phase.  If the student fails to answer the problem correctly again, the correction process repeats until the student answers correctly.  Having to listen to and remember the answer, rather than just copy the answer, helps students learn better.

An effective math app gives meaningful feedback

Without feedback, students can’t learn efficiently and get frustrated. But the feedback cannot be generic. It has to dynamically respond to different student behavior.

How XtraMath’s app gives feedback

XtraMath’s charming “Mr. C” narrates all of the transitions between parts of each day’s lesson.  He welcomes students, says he is happy to see them, and updates students on their progress.  He gives gentle, generic feedback about how you’re getting better and to remember to try to recall the facts instead of figuring them out.  However, his feedback remains the same no matter how you do.  In short, it is non-contingent feedback, which may not be very meaningful to students.

How Rocket Math’s app gives feedback

Differing from XtraMath, Rocket Math offers students a lot of feedback that is contingent. Contingent feedback means that students will receive different types of feedback depending on their responses.

The Rocket Math app gives positive feedback for all the 78 accomplishments noted above.  It also doles out corrective feedback when the student isn’t doing well.

As noted above, students receive corrective feedback on all errors. They get feedback when they take longer than three seconds to answer too.  The “Time’s Up” screen on the right pops up and Mission Control says, “Ya’ gotta be faster!  Wait.  Listen for the answer.”  And then the problem and the correct answer are given.  Students get a chance to answer that fact again soon and redeem themselves–proving they can answer it in 3 seconds.

The app tracks errors and three errors means the student needs more practice on this part.  The doors close (with appropriate sound effects).   The student is given encouragement that they have defeated three hard problems, and a challenge to Start Over if they are tough enough.  At that point, the “go” screen appears and the student has to hit “go” to open the doors (with appropriate sound effects) and try it again.

When it comes to recognizing a student’s success, the Rocket Math app holds nothing back. After a student completes a phase, one of a cast of voices gives enthusiastic congratulations as noted above.

Typically, students don’t have to “start over” more than once or twice in a phase, but they still feel a real sense of accomplishment when they do complete the phase.  The feedback students get from Rocket Math matters because they have to work hard to earn it.

How much does an effective math facts app cost?

It is hard to beat the price of XtraMath, which is free.  XtraMath is run by a non-profit based in Seattle.  They have a staff of six folks in Seattle, and they do accept donations.  Their product is great, and they are able to give it away.

Rocket Math is run by one person, Dr. Don.  He supports the app, its development and himself with the proceeds.  He answers his own phone and is happy to talk with teachers about math facts.  The Rocket Math Online Game is a good value at $1.15 a year per seat (when ordering 100 or more seats).  Twenty to 50 seats are $2.30 each. And fewer than 20 seats cost $4 each per year.  As one principal-customer of Rocket Math said, “We used to have XtraMath.  We’d rather pay a little bit for Rocket Math because the kids like it better.”

 

Prove that students using the Rocket Math Online Game are improving in fact fluency!

Document improved fluency by assigning a 1-minute RACE.

We have a feature that will allow you to assign a fluency test to all or some of your students. We call it a “1-minute RACE.”

To Assign a Fluency Test 1-Minute RACE:

1) Select the students to whom you want to assign the test RACE, or Select All.

2) Click on the orange Bulk Action button.

3) Pull down to “Assign 1-min RACE on next login.”

After doing that, in your dashboard you will see that the 1-minute race has been assigned on the next login. 
The next time those students login, they will be given the mission of doing a 1-minute race with ALL the facts in the Learning Track they are studying. They can skip facts they don’t know, by hitting the checkmark.

Here’s what the students experience.

A 1-minute test RACE is also automatically SCHEDULED after Sets A, i, R, and Z. See their latest results in Review Progress!

Assign a 1-minute RACE individually also–at any time you wish.

You can assign a 1-minute RACE at any time for specific individuals as well, using the green Individual Action button at the end of their row.

 

  • Export the test RACE results in spreadsheets. 

    • Separate exports for results from RACEs you Assign from the RACEs that are Scheduled after working through some levels in the Online Game (After sets A, i, R, and Z).

  • See averages across your class or school. 

    • Each spreadsheet will show the average for your class as a teacher or for the school in the account of the Subscription Manager or owner.  There are separate averages for each Learning Track.
  • See trends over time.

    • You’ll see the improvement each student makes from the beginning after Set A to each of the subsequent tests RACES.

Teach Multiplication Facts to Struggling Pre-Algebra Students

You want your middle-grade students to complete the pre-algebra math topics so they are ready to begin to study algebra in 8th or 9th grade. A disheartening number of middle-grade students have not memorized basic multiplication facts (times tables). Students must know multiplication facts to follow, absorb, and implement pre-algebra topics.  How to teach multiplication facts to struggling students? How can a teacher help their struggling students learn multiplication facts when a lot of their students do not need to do that work? 

Rocket Math Online Game includes learning tracks for pre-algebra skills as well as basic multiplication and division facts. Within the Rocket Math Online Game, teachers assign students the learning tracks that they most need.

 

Math Strategies for Struggling Students

a student who does not know her math facts is counting on her fingers.

Students who do not know their multiplication facts are constantly distracted from learning math strategies by having to stop and “figure out” basic facts. Every time they are asked to provide the answer to a multiplication fact, they have to turn their attention to working it out or looking it up. By the time they have gone through their process, they have lost the thread of the strategy they are supposed to be learning. The most important thing a math teacher can do for struggling math students is to help them bring math facts to automaticity. Then answering math fact questions no longer interferes with learning multi-step strategies for solving math problems. 

 

Why Multiplication facts are Important to Learn Before Middle School Math

A student sits frustrated in class because he doesn't understand his basic math facts.

Many pre-algebra math topics assume students have a ready knowledge of multiplication facts to even understand. When I was a middle-grade teacher, my remedial students were unable to follow or understand topics such as Finding factor pairs, reducing fractions, equivalent fractions, converting fractions, unlike fractions, and so on. I realized that it was because they did not know basic multiplication facts. When I reduced 8/24 to ⅓ it was like magic because they did not quickly recognize the multiplication facts involved. They didn’t understand the concepts we were trying to learn because they did not see the relationships they were supposed to know. When I asked them to think of the factor pairs of 36 they were unable to find them all, no matter how much time I gave them. While students can do multi-digit multiplication problems using a times table chart, it does them no good in pre-algebra topics because it takes too long, even if they know what to look up. Now let’s look at how to teach multiplication to struggling students using Rocket Math Worksheets or Rocket Math Online Game. 

 

How to Teach Multiplication to Struggling Students Using Rocket Math

Two students use Rocket Math Worksheets to practice their math facts.

Students who have not yet mastered multiplication facts are going to require a very effective teaching methodology to learn them. The haphazard, leave-it-up-to-the-student methods have already failed them. By now, these students lack confidence in their ability to learn the facts, so you need a sure-fire system. 

Rocket Math is just such a system. Both the Worksheet Program and the Online Game systematically introduce students to the facts in a careful sequence that they can do. The Worksheet Program and Online Game ask students to memorize only two facts and their reverses at a time.  

Students demonstrate mastery of those facts by answering them without hesitation. Then Rocket Math will add two more facts and their reverses. Small steps at a time, systematically the students can memorize the facts and answer them instantly from memory. If students practice every day, within a few weeks you’ll see a dramatic improvement in their recall of multiplication facts. 

But what about the students who already know their multiplication facts? Rocket Math has something for them as well. 

 

Rocket Math Programs for Advanced Students 

Teachers can assign Rocket Math as a 10-minute warm-up or cool down for all their students whether they are behind or advanced. Rocket Math has several pre-algebra topics for those students who already know their multiplication facts. Each of these topics will help them do pre-algebra processes more fluently and to quickly recognize relationships that they have memorized.

 

Learning Track 13: Identifying Fractions

Screenshot of Rocket Math Online Game for identifying fractions.When students initially learn about fractions they are often only shown proper fractions. As a result, they have a limited understanding of fractions and can be confused by improper fractions or mixed numbers. The Rocket Math programs (both Worksheet and Online) prevent this problem.  From the start, we teach students using examples of both proper and improper fractions as well as whole numbers and mixed numbers. Students learn to identify over 90 different fractions quickly and easily by getting lots of practice. Their understanding of fractions will deepen and become more flexible as they learn to recognize many examples of fractions.

 

Learning Track 14: Equivalent Fractions

Screenshot of Rocket Math Online Game of Equivalent Fractions practice.Students will memorize the most common equivalent fractions with this Rocket Math Learning Track. They will also learn to identify a number of fractions, such as 2/9,  that do not “reduce” or for which there are no equivalent fractions in lower terms. Students also learn to recognize a fraction equal to 1 whole in its various forms. When students don’t instantly know the answer they are told the equivalent fraction and given practice on it. The computer gives help in the Online Game.  Their partner gives that help in the Worksheet Program. By the end of the program, students will learn over 90 equivalent fractions. This gives students an excellent start on being able to manipulate fractions quickly and easily.

 

Learning Track 15: Factors & Primes

factors and primes game screensStudents are required to “find the factors” when dealing with unlike fractions and reducing fractions. Rocket Math Worksheet and Online Game teach students how to find factor pairs. Students learn how to find all the factor pairs and what they all are for many common numbers. They also learn to identify prime numbers and their characteristic of having only one and themselves as factors. Students learn the factor pairs in order and know the “last” factor pair when they see it. When the game asks “What’s next?” students can provide the next pair of factors or click the checkmark to indicate there are no more factors. When students go through this Learning Track they will no longer hesitate when asked for the factors of common numbers.

 

Learning Track 16: Fraction & Decimal Equivalents

Screenshot of Rocket Math Online Game of Fraction & Decimal Equivalents practice.

Common fraction and decimal equivalents should not require a laborious process to “figure out.” Students should just know these, so this Learning Track in the Online Game allows them to memorize a bunch of common decimal and fraction equivalents. Having a facility with a lot of fraction and decimal equivalents means faster computation as well as a way to check their process when manipulating fractions and decimals. Students also learn another essential pre-algebra skill that often confuses them.  They learn to correctly and fluently translate a fraction into a division problem and vice-versa.

“Test Drive” any of the 16 Learning Tracks in our Online Game demo accounts. 

Register for a 14-day free trial of Online Game for all your students

Explore the options for subscribing to the Worksheet Program.

Teaching Math Fact Fluency | Why Rote Learning Works best

Developing math fact fluency requires memorization and enables success in math

In case you have any doubt, every set of official recommendations about elementary math recognizes that children need to “know facts from memory,” which is to say recall. Memorization is required to develop math fact fluency or easy, automatic recall. Teaching math fact fluency is necessary, of course, for fluent computation. Math fact fluency is also required for understanding and manipulating fractions. Instant recall of math facts is required to be able to recognize when the calculator is not showing the right answer. How students should learn facts, and when they should begin the process is not as well understood.

What Students must know before beginning to memorize math facts

Students need to understand the operation, whether it is addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division, before they begin to memorize the math facts in that operation. What does it mean to say a student “understands” an operation? It means that given some time, they can figure out the answer to a math fact problem in that operation. A student who can add 8 and 7 and get the answer of 15 by drawing lines or counting on their fingers understands the operation. A student who can add 6 five times to get 30 understands multiplication well enough to begin learning answers. Really if you think about math facts, there are only two things to know: how to figure it out and what the answer is. Once students can “figure it out,” then all that’s left is memorizing the answer, so they don’t have to keep figuring it out over and over!

What students do NOT need to know before beginning memorization

There is a very widespread belief that students must play around with math facts before they begin memorization. That they need to experience a variety of ways of figuring out facts. Or that they need to first learn relationships among facts, like the doubles or doubles plus one. It is believed they need to do these before they begin memorization. Yes, done poorly, timed tests of ALL the facts without a program of instruction, is bad for students. Timed tests without learning results in students reconfirming their worst fears, that they are “bad at math.” That is counter-productive. We want students to develop confidence in their ability to learn and do the math. But do they need to play a lot of games or spend a lot of time figuring out math facts?  Maybe not.

Experimental Research has NEVER Shown the Necessity of Games.

Some advocates suggest that students must learn how to figure out facts “efficiently” before beginning memorization. But there is no cognitive difference between being able to figure out a fact efficiently or inefficiently. John A. Van de Walle, an author of “developmental” and “student-centered” math textbooks, is quite emphatic. He says,”Do not subject any student to fact drills unless the student has developed an efficient strategy for the facts included in the drill. … Drill prior to development of efficient methods is simply a waste of precious instructional time,” (Van de Walle, John A. Elementary and Middle School Math).

It is a bold claim, but not one that is backed up by any experimental evidence. Proponents like Van de Walle often cite “research” to “prove” that students must explore and play with numbers before memorization can begin. The “research”  citations are not experimental studies with control groups. They are simply recommendations or observations of what students do when they try to memorize on their own. 

It is true that if there is no systematic instruction, students will start finding ways to remember facts on their own. These little techniques are not bad in themselves but are abandoned when students finally learn the facts. When you can instantly recall the answer to a fact, you know it without going through any intervening thought. In fact, there’s no time for that. If you know that 8 plus 9 is 17 in a straight recall, instantly, you don’t need anything else. You no longer benefit from thinking through that “8 plus 8 is 16 and since 8 plus 9 is one more, the answer is one more than 16 or 17.”

 

Real research into teaching math fact fluency is desperately needed.  

An interesting experiment, that has never been done, would be to put randomly selected students into two groups after they had learned how to figure out an operation. One group could do these various non-rote, playing with numbers activities. That play-time would be followed with a program of memorization of math facts. The second group would go ahead with the program of memorization without bothering with all exploratory activities. Rocket Math would gladly fund such a research study and provide the math facts practice materials to do it. Seriously, which group do you think would have learned the facts soonest?

Common Non-Rote Activities that Just Waste Time

Students and teacher playing multiplication games with dice sitting in a circle in a classroom, to learn math facts.

Dice. 

The various types of activities that have students roll dice and add numbers together are usually a waste of time. Generally, most of the students are not doing math at all; they are just watching. The ones who are doing math, are just practicing figuring out the facts–but that’s something they already knew.

Cards.

Some recommendations include having children play cards–hoping they will learn more about numbers by doing that.  If you don’t know math facts, you will find playing most card games that involve combinations to be difficult.  You might start trying to remember some common combinations on your own.  That does not help you memorize facts any faster, however.

Combinations.  

One popular idea is having students make up combinations of numbers that add up to ten. Here’s an example of one version. Use a large dice and a whiteboard with a blank number bond drawn on it. Put the number 10 in the middle circle, and tell the students that you are going to make a number bond that equals 10. Roll the dice, and whatever number comes up, it goes into the top circle. The students then have to decide what number goes in the bottom circle to complete the bond.

Here is another variation of the same thing.  Set up three hula hoops in the yard. Take ten students at a time and roll the dice. Four of them moved into one hula hoop and the other six crowded into the other. Then have them get back together as a group of ten. Roll the dice again, and then have them split into two pairs again. It may take several rounds of this moving in variations of 10 before the students “get it.”

No time left to teach math fact fluency.

These activities take up a lot of valuable instructional time, to no clear end. The real result of these recommended activities is that teachers NEVER get enough time to work on memorization of facts. In the United States, a huge percentage of our children are not fluent in math facts or computation or the prerequisite skills for algebra. These games and activities waste the time needed to actually develop math fact fluency.

How to Improve Math Fact Fluency with Rote Learning

Students can only memorize a few facts at a time.  Almost no one can memorize ten similar facts at the same time.  Instruction must introduce a careful sequence of a few facts at a time, followed by plenty of practice.  Well-designed instruction makes memorization easy.  Students can instantly recall the answers to facts they have committed to long-term memory.  Facts introduced too quickly can overwhelm a student’s memory capacity.  The task requires a steady process of accumulating these facts over several weeks.  Students learn at a pace based on their ability.  Everyone can memorize the facts, but just not all at the same speed.  Everyone can do rote learning, but it takes time and patient practice.

How to Get Kids to Memorize Math Facts (And Love Doing It!)

A student holds up their Rocket Math score sheet, which teaches math fact fluency to students.

There isn’t anything less intrinsically interesting than learning math facts. However, students and teachers commonly tell me that “doing Rocket Math” is their favorite time of the day. Why is that?  Both the Rocket Math worksheets and the new Online Game are designed to carefully introduce facts at a rate based on student learning. Students are continuously successful and are not overwhelmed.

A second reason students love Rocket Math are its built-in milestones.  As they achieve them, students can recognize the progress they are making. Students love feeling themselves achieving mastery–it is fun. They know they are in school to learn, and they love it when they can tell that they are learning. Far from being harmful, learning math facts can help build the self-esteem of all students. Not to mention making math easier in the long run. Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to postpone this important aspect of your students’ education.

**Nor do the proponents of these various math activities and games say which grades should do these and which ones should stop playing games and get to memorizing. Consequently, many teachers keep doing these games all the way through elementary school and never do get around to the memorization part.

 

20 years of Rocket Math shows that going straight to memorization works fine

Teachers have been using, and students have been learning from Rocket Math for over 20 years, without first doing these games, and not having any problems. You can too. Try it for yourself and see. We have a 60-day free trial of Rocket Math Online Game. Call us if you need an extension.