The Ultimate Guide to Math Fact Fluency

Students counting on their fingers is a sure-tell sign that they didn’t acquire math fact fluency. It is sad to see students, ashamed of the only thing they know, counting on their fingers under their desks. Our elementary educational mission is failing students who haven’t developed math fact fluency, which  is the foundation to more advanced math skills.

Developing math fact fluency takes structure, organization, and work on the part of both teachers and students. In this article, I will share everything you need to know about developing math fact fluency.

What is Math Fact Fluency

Math facts are single-digit problems such as 7+9 or 6×8 or 14-5, and so on. A common name for all the multiplication math facts is the “multiplication table.” Math fact fluency is the ability to answer all math fact questions instantly from recall without having to think through the problem.

Students should be able to recall math facts instantly without having to count on their fingers or  hesitate to think about the answer. This may seem like a high bar, but our brains are great at recalling an unbelievable amount of information daily, and with practice, math facts can be recalled the same way. 

Three Reasons Why Math Fact Fluency is Important

tools to build math fact fluencyMath fact fluency is critical because it is a “tool skill.” Meaning, it is a tool that is used in the process of doing other math problems. Developing this tool skill makes learning math easier as concepts get more complicated. This tool skill needs to be automatic in the student’s brain, in order to save precious short-term memory resources.

Math fact fluency can be compared to reading. Students must recognize words automatically to comprehend the author’s meaning. Otherwise, they will spend too much time decoding individual words.

 

 

When students are fluent in math facts, they are focused on the math process as a whole, rather than stopping to puzzle out the facts. This is important for three reasons: 

1. Students with math fact fluency make fewer errors

Students who lack math fact fluency often make careless errors doing arithmetic computations . If they devote too much energy to deriving math facts, they lose sight of the problem at hand and make mistakes that would otherwise be obvious. Those who can effortlessly recall math facts can concentrate on what they are doing, and ultimately make fewer errors.

2. Math fact fluency makes learning math easier

When a new math procedure is introduced, students who have math fact fluency can easily follow the thread of instruction. Without this fluency, students fall behind instruction or demonstrations as they try working out math facts. This distraction takes away from a student absorbing all of the details necessary to successfully learn new math processes.

The first teacher to use Rocket Math to teach subtraction facts to her second graders realized the benefit first hand. She told me that with Rocket Math, she was able to teach regrouping in subtraction in just three days.

Her students mastered the math facts, and the outcome was extraordinary. The teacher shared that since these students had developed fluency in subtraction facts, they were able to learn other procedures easily.

3. Students who have developed math fact fluency enjoy math and always complete their work

Having to count on your fingers or look up facts on a timetable is slow and onerous. When students can’t work quickly, math problems become a dreaded drudgery. Students are motivated by mastering new skills, which will help them work faster and build confidence . Those who can quickly recall math facts will complete their work with ease , and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment.

 

How to Build and Improve Math Fact Fluency

steep climb to math fact fluencyBuilding and improving math fact fluency requires a systematic effort over the elementary years. It is a long climb to achieve mastery and there are no short-cuts.

Consistent daily practice throughout elementary school is important for retention. Slow and steady wins the race when building math fact fluency.

Math fact practice should be structured in such a way that students are learning a small number of facts at a time. These small groups of facts  should be practiced daily until students have reached mastery. As time goes on, more groups of math facts are introduced systematically in small amounts for students to master.

Learning 1s to 9s facts in the four basic operations will take elementary students months to master. Worksheets and game applications are two of the best ways to teach math fact fluency over time. Combining structured math fact learning, practice, and evaluation with fun math fact games helps students develop number sense and understand complex numerical relationships.

 

Teaching Math Fact Fluency with Worksheets

Worksheets are popular tools that teachers reach for when teaching math facts, but sadly, they often fall short for the majority of students. A few select students will begin memorizing the facts on their own accord in order to make the worksheets easier, but most students will continue to slowly work out the facts either on their fingers or in their heads. These students may never develop a strong recall of the facts and become flustered when asked to answer problems on the spot.

Fortunately, there are specific worksheets that are effective in building math fact fluency. The key is having worksheets that are structured, systematic, and sequenced. Each worksheet should only have two to four facts to be learned. 

By working on only two to four facts, these worksheets help teach memorization for a strong recall, rather than reinforcing working out problems slowly. Students  will then be able to remember these small groups of facts easier, and by the end of the worksheet will be writing answers from memory. 

 

Teaching Math Fact Fluency with The Rocket Math Worksheet Program

Two students participating in one of Rocket Math's math fluency programsThe Rocket Math Worksheet Program improves upon this concept by using paired practice and saying facts aloud. Students partner up and practice quickly recalling facts together. One student asks the questions and watches for when their partner hesitates to answer. He or she then gives his or her partner more opportunities to practice the harder facts.

The students switch roles, and after both have answered questions, they then take a one minute test on the facts that they have learned so far. If students are answering as fast as their fingers will carry them, then they pass the level and move on to the next worksheet in the sequence.

Ten minutes of practice  every day gets the job done, especially when paired with using these facts in higher level math problems.

 

Teaching Math Fact Fluency with Games

Students and teacher playing multiplication games with dice sitting in a circle in a classroomIn addition to worksheets, schools of education tell teachers to use games to “teach” math facts. Unfortunately, most games and fun activities do not actually help individual students learning math facts to the level of fluency. These games, such as bingo or dice, have several fallouts:

  • Students spend most of their time waiting for their turn rather than practicing facts.
  • They do not focus on teaching a small group of facts in a manner that helps students commit them to memory.
  • The games do not adjust to an individual student’s level of fluency.
  • Students can pace the game slowly enough to have time to figure out facts rather than requiring recall.
  • It is difficult to keep every student engaged, as those who are behind are less likely to participate.

Using the Rocket Math Online Game as an Effective Way to Teach Math Fact Fluency

asian child holding tablet with a math fact fluency app by Rocket MathThere are games that are very effective at building math fact fluency. Games such as the Rocket Math Online Game have several important features that make a big difference.

  1. Every student is engaged in answering math facts—not waiting for a turn.
  2. Students learn only a few new facts at a time so that they can remember them.
  3. The game provides lots of focused practice on each set of facts. 
  4. The game requires students to answer quickly, which guarantees the students recall the answer rather than “figuring it out” over and over.
  5. The game gives an immediate correction and extra practice on any facts that students cannot answer quickly and correctly.
  6. The game only introduces new facts once students demonstrate mastery of facts learned so far.
  7. The game gives students explicit feedback so they have a sense of accomplishment as they work their way through an operation.

Math Fact Fluency Benchmarks

The following benchmarks are reasonable expectations for a school that has an effective math fluency program in place. Of course, a student cannot write math facts any faster than they can normally write, so take that into account when looking at fluency benchmarks. Adjust the benchmarks for students who do not write quickly. 

Kindergarten Numeral Writing Fluency Benchmarks (digits)

Start of Year Mid-Year End of Year
  20 digits per minute 40 digits per minute
 

First Grade Numeral Writing Fluency Benchmarks (digits)

Start of Year Mid-Year End of Year
40 digits per minute 60 digits per minute 60 digits per minute
 

First Grade Math Fact Fluency Benchmarks (problems per minute)

Start of Year Mid-Year End of Year
Addition: 12 per minute Addition: 25 per minute Addition: 25 per minute
 

Second Grade Math Fact Fluency (problems per minute)

Start of Year Mid-Year End of Year
Addition: 25 per minute                      Addition: 30 per minute                      Addition: 30 per minute
  Subtraction: 12 per minute Subtraction: 25 per minute
 
Third Grade Math Fact Fluency Benchmarks (problems per minute)
Start of Year Mid-Year End of Year
Addition: 30 per minute Addition: 30 per minute Addition: 30 per minute
Subtraction: 30 per minute Subtraction: 30 per minute Subtraction: 30 per minute
  Multiplication: 30 per minute Multiplication: 30 per minute
 
Fourth Grade Math Fact Fluency Benchmarks (problems per minute)
Start of Year Mid-Year End of Year
Addition: 35 per minute Addition: 35 per minute Addition: 35 per minute
Subtraction: 35 per minute Subtraction: 35 per minute Subtraction: 35 per minute
Multiplication: 35 per minute Multiplication: 35 per minute Multiplication: 35 per minute
  Division: 20 per minute Division: 35 per minute
 
Fifth Grade Math Fact Fluency Benchmarks (problems per minute)
Start of Year Mid-Year End of Year
Addition: 35 per minute Addition: 40 per minute Addition: 40 per minute
Subtraction: 35 per minute Subtraction: 40 per minute Subtraction: 40 per minute
Multiplication: 35 per minute Multiplication: 40 per minute Multiplication: 40 per minute
Division: 35 per minute Division: 40 per minute Division: 40 per minute

 Math Fact Fluency Assessment

Use this printable packet of free math fact fluency assessments to test your students’ skill levels relative to  the above benchmarks. This will give you a clear idea of your students’ fluency and where there is room for opportunity.

Rocket Math’s assessment packet includes a writing speed test, which helps create realistic expectations for individual students. Using the goal sheet ensures you will evaluate the individual student math fact fluency in light of their writing speed.

Rate students as:

  1. Weak, needs fact work
  2. Good, but fact work could help
  3. Strong, fact work not needed

Special triage priority: if you have fourth-grade students and above, start with multiplication facts. Multiplication facts are essential to future success in math above fourth grade. Even if fourth graders are counting on their fingers for addition and subtraction, teach multiplication mastery first. If fourth graders move to the next grade without strong multiplication fact fluency, they will have a hard time successfully progressing through math.

 

The Best Tools for Developing Math Fact Fluency

With the right tools, any student can develop math fact fluency and have fun while doing it! Students use Rocket Math’s Subscription Worksheet Program to practice with partners, then take timed tests. Rocket Math also offers math facts practice online through the Rocket Math Online Game. Students can log in and play from any device, anywhere, any time of day! Start a free trial today. 

Both the worksheet program and the online game help students master addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division math facts for a lifetime of success in math.

 

 

 

Positive Praise: Building Effective Teaching Habits

Positive praise is one of the most effective ways to encourage wanted behaviors from students. Because building habits is not an easy task, here are a few things you can do to start easily incorporating positive praise in the classroom.

  1. Be prepared with positive phrases
  2. Develop the most effective wording
  3. Start Small with two areas you would like to see improved behavior
  4. Practice in the Classroom and watch the effect it has on your students
  5. Grow and expand your positive phrases over time as you master the habit

Be Prepared with Positive Praise Phrases

I distinctly remember trying to help pre-service teachers build the teaching habit of positive praise. I would make suggestions and then observe. Trying to implement my suggestions wasn’t as easy as you would imagine – these teachers would glance in my direction and start the sentence “I like the way you’re . . .” and then trail off without knowing what to say.

Teachers want to use positivity and affirmation with their students, however, in my experience, they don’t always have the appropriate words ready to praise good behavior. Building the teaching habit of positive praise starts with getting the right words ready.

Recently I was reminded of this key component of building the new habit of making more positive statements. I wanted to personally develop this positive statement habit, but for some reason was not making the progress I had hoped for.

I quickly realized that I was making the same mistake I had watched the pre-service teachers make. I was unable to make more positive statements because I did not have any in mind that were ready-to-use.

To build the habit of making more positive statements, I would have to start memorizing some key phrases to keep on standby, ready to use when I needed them.

Positive Praise Example Phrases: How to Develop the Right Wording

The first step in positive praise is learning and developing the most effective wording. Using effective wording means you are getting through to your student, and clearly communicating that you appreciate the good behavior they are exhibiting.

Praise is most effective when it is prompt – when you deliver the praise in the moment. Can you picture a specific scenario in your classroom when many of the students are not doing as you asked, while a few students are dutifully following instructions?

This is the perfect scenario to use positive praise not only in rewarding students with good behavior but also encouraging other students to follow suit. Don’t be afraid to praise good behavior loud and proud for the rest of the classroom to hear!

Here are some examples of positive praise:

  • Look at Alan so smart sitting in his seat and showing me he is ready to learn. Way to go, Alan.
  • I see Beto is tracking with his finger while Claudio is saying the facts. That’s the way to help your partner!
  • Julia, you are so sharp having your eyes on the teacher, so you can learn!  I am impressed.
  • Stacy and Sophia know just what to do, they have their books open to page XX.  They are so on top of it!
  • Fantastic, Justin! You put your pencil down and are waiting for directions.  I can tell you’re going to college.
  • Stephanie is being such a great on-task student by working quietly and not talking.

Start Small: Pick Two Key Behaviors You Would Like to See More Of

Start out by choosing wanted behaviors from the two most annoying or frustrating scenarios you face as a teacher.  Stating small will help you build a consistent habit of giving positive praise.

Take these two wanted behaviors and build two praise statements you can easily use in-the-moment. Make sure the statement names the behavior specifically. Always include the student’s name, and keep it simple and affirmative.

Now, take a note card or piece of paper and write down these two statements. Don’t wait! Write them down now and keep this note in front of you while you teach. It will serve as a reminder throughout your day to incorporate positive praise as much as possible.

Practice saying these phrases aloud until you have them memorized and can recall them without having to think about it. The most important step in building this habit? Actually practicing positive statements in the classroom.

With these key components and diligent practice in the classroom, you will quickly build the habit of positively praising your students.

Positive Praise in The Classroom: Will it Make a Difference?

Fortunately, positive praise is free and can be implemented at any time throughout the school year. Start using positive praise now, and watch how your students respond.

Prepare yourself for giving positive praise when you are about to begin those frustrating scenarios. When the activity begins, look for opportunities to praise the behavior you are looking for when you notice students who are off-task.

You will see results when you use positive praise genuinely and with enthusiasm. You will know it is working if you watch for those distracted students taking notice of who is being praised. If you notice this happening, keep it up. The more praise you give for wanted behavior, the more that behavior will occur.

Grow and Expand Your Positive Praise Habit

Now that you know how to promote a specific behavior with positive praise, you can systematically develop statements for all your troublesome areas.  Every time students are not doing what you want, think of what you want them to do instead.  Behavior analysts call those replacement behaviors. 

Positive praise can also be used creatively alongside other motivational tools in the classroom. When I began my teaching career I was in the habit of scolding behaviors I did not want. Early in my career, I learned the effectiveness of positive praise and began incorporating it into my daily routine.

When I saw the behavior I wanted I would give loud and proud praise for all to hear. I decided to couple this by adding marbles to a jar every time I gave praise, as an added motivational tool – so students could see how well they have been doing. It worked wonders on increasing wanted behavior.

Building new habits is never easy, but I can personally say that as a teacher, learning to incorporate positive praise into your teaching routine will not only help students learn, but it will save you a lot of frustration!

Beginning numerals and counting program added to Rocket Math

Beginning Numerals and Counting

Dr. Don has created another math program and put it into the Universal level virtual filing cabinet at Rocket Math.  This is a beginning program for kindergarten students.  That means they can’t learn on their own, the teacher must provide instruction.  Teachers can use the worksheets to effectively teach students to count objects aloud and then match the word with the numeral. You can see the top half of Worksheet A here.

I do–demonstration of counting.

Each worksheet begins with a demonstration of counting objects and circling the numeral that matches.  On Worksheet A there are only the numerals two and three to learn.  The teacher demonstrates (best with a document camera so all students can see) how she counts the objects and then points out that the answer is circled. Suggested teaching language is something like this,

“I can do these. Watch me count the frogs. One, two, three.  There are three frogs in this box. So they circled the three. Everybody, touch here where the three is circled. Good.
How many frogs were in this box, everybody? Yes, three.
Now watch me do the next box.”

We do–counting together. 

In the “We do” portion of the worksheet the teacher counts the stars first as a demo and then with the students.  Worksheet A you all just count 3 stars.  Suggested teaching language is something like this:

“Our ‘We Do’ says to touch and count. Start at zero and count each star.
We are going to touch and count the stars. Put your counting finger on zero,
everybody. We are going to start at zero and count each star. Let’s count.
One, two, three. We counted three stars. That was great!
Let’s do it again! Fingers on zero, everybody. Let’s count. One…”

By Worksheet S the teacher and the students are  counting 12 stars together.

The program has a page of teacher directions, with suggested language for teaching the worksheets.

You do–independent counting. 

In the “You do” portion of the worksheet (after learning the numerals with the teacher), the students are asked to count the items in each box and circle the correct number.  They are not asked to form the numerals–that’s numeral writing skill.  They just identify the numeral and circle it. Besides cute items there are also dice to count, fingers to count and hash marks to count–so students can learn multiple ways of keeping track of numbers.

Passing a level requires 100% accuracy.  Students who make any errors should be worked with until they can complete the worksheet independently and get all the items correct.

This Beginning numerals program will build strong beginning math skills for kindergarten students learning the meaning of numerals.  Combined with Rocket Writing for Numerals it will set students up for success in elementary math.

 

 

Math Worksheets for Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th grade+

Rocket Math worksheets are a great way to teach math facts to children of all ages – starting as early as Kindergarten when students begin learning how to read and write numbers. The Rocket Math Universal Worksheet Program is designed for daily practice in order to build a solid foundation of basic math skills.

Our Universal Worksheet Program follows a simple structure and routine to help students progress at an appropriate rate throughout their different grade levels. Throughout the sequence, students learn all of the building blocks necessary to succeed throughout elementary and middle school.

If you have students that are behind for their grade level, our worksheet program makes it easy for you to revisit previous lessons that will reinforce the concepts that are necessary to move forward. Likewise, there are plenty of supplemental worksheets within the program to keep advanced students engaged.

Kindergarten Math Worksheets

math worksheet for kindergartenerskindergarten math worksheets

The first math-related goal for Kindergarteners should be to learn how to write numerals. It is important for children to learn the most efficient way to write numerals. Think about it – how do you write the number eight? Where does your pen begin on the page?

Believe it or not, this is something that is learned and becomes second nature.  This skill is important to develop early on as the first building block to learning math.  

Rocket Writing for Numerals is a 72-page program for students to learn how to write the numerals efficiently.  It proceeds from how to write numerals and goes until they can write 40 digits in a minute. It is part of the Rocket Math Universal Worksheet Program and is designed to be practiced on a daily basis.

1st Grade Math Worksheets

1st grade math worksheet

If children in first grade cannot write numerals legibly and efficiently, they should begin the year with Rocket Writing for Numerals. Once they understand the concept of addition, first graders are ready to begin memorizing addition facts.  

The Rocket Math Worksheet Program includes Addition 1s through 9s.  Students work through 26 levels (A to Z) learning two facts and their reverses on each level.  They practice orally for 2 minutes with a partner who corrects any hesitations or errors.

math worksheet for first graders

Alternatively, once students have learned the concepts for both addition and subtraction, they can begin to learn Fact Families. Our Fact Families 1 to 10 Add and Subtract worksheet program begins teaching fact families. Set D of this worksheet to the right is an example, teaching four related math facts such as 3+2, 2+3, 5-2, and 5-3.

Common Core suggests that students be fluent with addition facts up to 20, such as 13+6=19. Personally, I think if a student knows 3+6=9, they don’t need to practice 13+6.  However, Rocket Math has made available a program for these facts, Add to 20 in the Universal subscription.

Rocket Math makes it easy for teachers, as the consistent structure provides an easy daily routine for students in all programs and levels. Because the Rocket Math Worksheet program follows a sequence and routine, it is easy for students to continue working together even when studying different programs or levels.

2nd Grade Math Worksheets

Upon starting second grade, students should have mastered all of their addition facts, or fact families 1 to 10. If they have not mastered those facts, you should begin with the first-grade worksheets (Addition 1s through 9s/Fact Families 1 to 10 Add and Subtract) until they are ready to move forward.

second grade math worksheetThe goal for second graders is to learn subtraction (and addition facts) by the end of the year.  Rocket Math has a Worksheet Program for Subtraction 1s through 9s that is perfect for second grade.  If students master the subtraction facts through practicing with Rocket Math they will be able to learn the lessons of re-grouping, a.k.a “borrowing”, much more easily.

math worksheet for second gradersIf students have been using the Fact Families Program, it is best to continue using that sequence. Second graders should be ready for Fact Families 11 to 18 Add & Subtract. The last ten levels of this program review all the fact families so that students will be quite solid in their mastery by the time they reach Level Z. 

 

 

best math worksheets for second grade students

For second-grade students who have mastered addition and subtraction facts, skip counting is a great next step. Skip counting is easy and fun for students while preparing them for multiplication in third grade.  

Rocket Math’s Skip Counting program is a uniquely designed worksheet. When students are practicing together, the checker has to rotate the paper to keep up as the other is quickly skip counting.

Because of that, students especially enjoy this worksheet. Not to mention, the design incorporated playful Rocket graphics, which causes it to resemble a game rather than a math worksheet!

Common Core suggests that students be fluent with subtraction facts up to 20, such as 19-6=13. Personally, I think if a student knows 9-6=3, they don’t need to practice 19-6.  However, Rocket Math has made available a program, Subtract from 20, so students can practice these facts.

 

 3rd Grade Math Worksheets

third grade math worksheet

The priority for third grade is to learn multiplication. Textbooks begin teaching the concept of multiplication from very early in 3rd grade.  Your goal should be to introduce multiplication facts by the time the textbook is giving students multiplication problems to solve.

Using the Rocket Math Skip Counting worksheet can help ease students into learning multiplication facts. If possible the Skip Counting worksheet should be used before students are asked to start performing a lot of multiplication.

math worksheet for third grade

The first step to successfully teaching multiplication facts is teaching memorization. The Rocket Math Multiplication 1s to 9s is designed to build strong multiplication fact fluency and recall. This technique avoids the problem of students having to look up facts in times tables, over and over again.

Achieving mastery in multiplication facts is the only way for students to keep up in math throughout elementary and middle school. Even if students come to you without having a solid foundation of addition and subtraction, it is crucial that you teach mastery in multiplication.

For quick-learning students, who get through Multiplication 1s through 9s before the end of the year, a good supplemental Worksheet Program is Multiplication 10s, 11s, 12s.  Building upon the facts from Multiplication 1s to 9s, students progress easily through this next set of facts.  And of course, students consider it a badge of honor to be members of the “tens, elevens, and twelves” club!

 

 

4th Grade Math Worksheets

fourthgrade math worksheet

By the end of fourth grade, students should have learned all four basic operations of math facts. Fourth graders should be using then Division 1s through 9s worksheet to learn division facts.  

While division facts are derived from multiplication, it is very valuable for students to explicitly learn the division facts. Long division comes much easier for students who have learned division facts.

For students who get all the way through Level Z in basic division, there is a supplemental program: Division 10s, 11s, 12s.  It builds upon and reviews facts from Division 1s to 9s while keeping learning fun for students who work faster.

 

 

Math Worksheets for 5th grade and up

Students who have been learning math facts since kindergarten have built a great foundation by the time they reach fifth grade.  Unfortunately, this is not the case for many students, which makes it difficult for teachers to create lessons suitable for everyone’s level.

Rocket Math provides an easy solution for these teachers. Simply take ten minutes a day utilizing the worksheet program to teach the four basic operations. While these students are catching up, the remaining students can do Rocket Math as well!

We offer five programs that teach more advanced math skills that follow the same structure and routine. Each one of these five different programs includes video lessons that teach students both how to use the program and how to do the skill that is being introduced.

advanced math worksheet1) Equivalent Fractions

  • Teaches 100 fractions and what they are equivalent to.

2) Factors

  • Shows how to find all the factors of a number, quickly and reliably.

3) Learning to Add Integers (positive and negative numbers)

  • Uses a vertical number line to teach these problems.

4) Learning to Subtract Integers (positive and negative numbers)

  • Uses the vertical number line to show how these work.

math worksheet for fast learners5) Mixed Integers (adding and subtracting positive and negative numbers)

  • Uses the same vertical number lines but now mixes the 8 types of problems together.

 

Rocket Math’s goal is to make learning fun for everyone – students and teachers. By following the worksheet program, even students who have struggled in the past can begin gaining confidence in their math skills.

With the right tools, students can enjoy learning math and teachers can relax knowing that a strong foundation is being built. Our FAQs page for Teacher Instructions and How to Implement the Worksheet program can help answer any questions you might have.

The Ultimate Math Facts Test Online for Kids

You’re probably looking for a math facts test online to evaluate how well your students are learning their math facts. But did you know, it’s more effective to teach and test at the same time? Rocket Math’s online game does exactly that, making it the ultimate math fact online testing app.

Testing without teaching doesn’t work

Too many math facts tests online spend a lot of time asking students facts they don’t know. As a result, students learn inefficient ways to solve math fact problems, like counting on their fingers.  Even puzzling out answers from knowing doubles is tedious. Students will find memorization of math facts difficult if they constantly have to “figure out” math facts. Plus these two methods are slow, setting students up to fail timed math fact tests in class.

So what is the best way to test whether a student can recall math facts?

Teach and test a small number of math facts in tandem

An effective math facts test online will start teaching as soon as the test finds the first math fact that the student can’t answer quickly.

Rocket Math online game app interfaceIt is important to begin teaching immediately for several reasons.

(1) Students think that they will always have to compute math facts on their fingers or with a number line.  They don’t know that they can and should get to a point where they instantly recall the answers to facts.  Helping students memorize a previously unlearned math fact immediately after they miss the problem shows them that they can successfully master any fact.

(2) Students need to know that we do NOT want them endlessly figuring out math facts.  By responding immediately with teaching, we send the message, “Hey, you didn’t know this fact instantly.  That’s not what we want.  Let’s practice this one, right now, so you can learn it.”  Requiring the student to answer the fact again faster reinforces the message.

(3) Teaching a fact works best when the fact is surrounded by facts the student already knows. Therefore, the best time to teach is when a student meets the first math fact they can’t instantly recall. An effective test online will mix the unrecallable math fact with a sea of already mastered material, teach the math fact, and then test it again.

(4) The student learns the difference between memorized and unmemorized facts. This helps the student understand that the goal is to instantly recall that fact.

(5) With a combined teaching and testing approach, a student’s success rate will be high since the student primarily answers facts they already know. As a result, students are motivated to learn more math facts.

Why testing and teaching is the perfect learning paradigm

If your teaching program works carefully in sequence, students will encounter opportunities to practice facts they know (a good thing!).  Gradually, new facts will be introduced, practiced and tested. That is the perfect recipe for successful learning.  Over time, students will be able to master all the facts as the program works through its sequence.  Now you have accomplished the end goal: for students to learn the facts they didn’t know.  By testing and teaching as you go, students remain encouraged, learn the difference between problem-solving and memorization, and reach mastery.

Rocket Math game: the ultimate math fact test online

Dr. Don from Rocket Math watches the first Rocket Math app user complete math facts testThe picture to the right shows me watching the very first kid try out the Rocket Math online game.  As soon as he saw math problems, he said, “I don’t really like math that much.”  But he saw the problem on the screen was 3 + 1 =, so he just typed in 4 because he knew the answer.  Then he saw 2 + 1 = and he says, “Well I know that,” and he typed in that answer.  The reverses (1 + 3 and 1 + 2) came up and he could answer those.  The online math app only introduced those two math facts and their reverses, but he had to answer twelve in a row to pass the test.

Over time, he became faster.  He answered all twelve math facts and received an on-screen congratulations. Mission Control (a fictional character in the math app) told him that he had “taken off with Set A” and could, “try for orbit” if he dared! After finishing the round, he brought the tablet over to me and said he liked it and wanted to play it again as soon as the mandatory 30-minute break was over.

Not only did the Rocket Math app teach and test four math facts in 5 minutes, but the student wanted to continue practicing math facts. That’s the beauty of a combined teaching and testing approach. Kind of a big deal, eh?

How School Math Fluency Programs Work

Math Fluency Programs should be part of on-going elementary school routines

Most elementary teachers do some activities to promote math fluency.  Yet many elementary children are not fluent with math facts by the time they hit upper elementary or middle school.  A hit-or-miss approach allows too many students, especially the most vulnerable, to slip through the cracks.   Math fluency programs, like Rocket Math’s Worksheet Program, need to be part of your elementary school’s routine.  Effective math fluency programs should be properly structured and every math teacher should be on board, every year.

Math fact fluency enables students to develop number sense

Many teachers learn in their training programs about the importance of “number sense.”  Students who have “number sense” can easily and flexibly understand relations between numbers.  They can recombine numbers in various ways and see the components of numbers.  Students with number sense can intuit the fact that addition and subtraction are different ways of looking at the same relations.

What is not taught in most schools of education is that developing fluency with the basic math facts ENABLES the development of number sense much better than anything else.  Once students memorize facts, they are available for students to call upon to understand alternate configurations of numbers. Students find it much easier to see the various combinations when they when they can easily recall math facts.  Once students master the basic facts, math games that give flexibility to thinking about numbers become much easier.

It may be hard for new teachers, straight from indoctrination in the schools of education, to imagine this is true.  However, if they land in an elementary school with a strong math fact fluency program they will see the beneficial effect of memorization.

young boy wearing a blue striped shirt counting to seven on his fingersWhy is math fact fluency important

In the primary grades, students who have not developed fluency in math facts will have a harder time learning basic computation.

Students who are not fluent with math facts find the worksheets in the primary grades to be laborious work.  They finish fewer of them and may begin to dislike math for this reason.

By the time students reach upper elementary, if they have not memorized the math facts, they find it very difficult to complete math assignments at their grade level.  They find themselves unable to estimate or do mental math for problem-solving.  The need to figure out math facts will continue to distract non-fluent students while they are learning new math procedures like algorithms.

In the upper grades, their inability to figure out multiplication facts becomes a huge stumbling block.  Manipulations of fractions, decimals, and percentages will not make intuitive sense to students because they haven’t memorized those facts.  Without math fact fluency, students rarely succeed in pre-algebra and may be prevented from learning algebra and college-level math entirely.

Math fact fluency must be assured through regular monitoring

Some students will need up to ten times more practice to develop math fluency than other students.  Therefore, monitoring student success in memorizing the facts is critical. Teachers can assume that what is “enough practice” for some students is NOT going to be enough practice for all students.  Effective math fluency programs must have a progress monitoring component built in.  Progress monitoring gives comparable timed tests of all the facts at intervals during the year.  Teachers look at the results of these timed tests to check on two things:

1. Are students gradually improving their fluency with all the facts gradually over the year? 

In other words, are students able to answer more facts in the same amount of time?  If they aren’t improving, then the instructional procedures aren’t working and need to be modified or replaced.  Math fluency programs like Rocket Math’s Worksheet Program have two minute timings of all the facts in each operation that can be given and the results graphed to see if there is steady improvement.

2. Are all students reaching expected levels of performance at each grade level each year?

Proper math fluency programs identify students who are not meeting expectations and give them more intensive interventions.  Ultimately, by the end of fourth grade all students should be able to fluently answer basic 1s – 9s fact problems from memory in the four operations of add, subtract, multiply and divide. Fluent performance is generally assumed to be 40 problems per minute, unless students cannot write that quickly.

Expectations vary by grade level and the sequence with which schools teach facts can vary.  While it is great to achieve all that the Common Core suggests, it is critical only to assure that students master and gain fluency in 1s through 9s facts.  Some schools in some neighborhoods may find that waiting until second grade to begin math facts may not provide enough time for all students to achieve fluency.  When to begin fact fluency and how much to expect each year should be based on experience rather than some outside dictates.

Successful math fluency programs must have these 3 features

 

  1. Sequences of small sets

    No one can memorize ten similar things, like the 2s facts, all at once. Students easily master math facts when they can learn and memorize small amounts of facts at one time. Effective math fluency programs define math fact sequences, which students memorize at their pace before moving onto new math facts. Rocket Math’s fluency program uses only two facts and their reverses in each set from A through Z.

  2. Self-paced progress

    Even if you only introduce small sets of math facts, some students need more time to memorize than others.  If you introduce the facts too fast, students will begin to jumble them together and progress will be lost. The pace of introducing facts must be based on mastery—not some pre-defined pace.  This is why doing all the multiplication facts as a class in the first six weeks of third grade does not work.  It is just too fast for some students.  Once they fall behind it all becomes a blur.

  3.  Effective practice and corrections

    When students are practicing facts, they will come to ones they have forgotten or can’t recall immediately.  Those are the facts on which they need more practice.  Allowing students to stop and figure out the facts they don’t know while practicing, does not help the student commit them to memory.  Instead, students need to IMMEDIATELY receive the fact and the answer, repeat it and try to remember it.  Then they need to attempt that fact again in a few seconds, after doing another couple of problems.  If they have remembered the fact and can recall it, then they are on their way to fluency.  But students must practice the next day to cement in that learning.

Math fluency programs like Rocket Math’s Worksheet Program teach students math facts in small sets, allow students to progress at their own pace, and support effective practice and error correction. Each Rocket Math Worksheet program has 26 (A to Z) worksheets specially designed to help kids gradually (and successfully) master math skills. Gain access to all of them with a Universal Subscription or just the four basics (add, subtract, multiply, divide–1s to 9s) with a Basic Subscription.

 

 

Does Your Kid’s App Teach Math Fact Fluency – Or Waste Time?

Just playing a math facts game won’t build math fact fluency

There are a lot of apps out there that look like they would help your child learn math fact fluency.  If they have to answer math facts, won’t that work?  Not really.  Just playing a game that asks you to answer facts won’t help you learn new facts.  In fact, most apps for practicing facts are discouraging to students who don’t know their facts well.  Why?  Because most of the people designing the app don’t have any experience teaching.  A teacher, like the creator of the Rocket Math App, is trained to effectively teach new math facts (or any facts) to a student and knows an effective math app from an ineffective one.

3 essential features of an effective math fact app

There are plenty of ineffective math apps.  Some apps don’t give the answers when a student doesn’t know them.  Some apps just fill in the answer for the student and then move on.  When the student doesn’t know the answer, the app has to teach it.  To teach math fact fluency, the app has to do these three things:

  1. The app has to tell the problem and the answer to the student.

  2. It has to ask the student to give the correct answer to the problem.

  3. It has to ask the problem again after a short delay to see if the student can remember the answer.

Without doing these three things there’s no way the app is going to be able to teach a new fact to the student.

An effective math app will only teach a few math facts at a time

Nobody can learn a bunch of new and similar things all at the same time.  A person can only learn two, three, or four facts at a time. You cannot expect to learn more.*  That’s enough for one session.  The student has to practice those facts a lot of times to commit them to memory.  Once or twice is not enough. It also won’t help to practice the same fact over and over.  Proper math fact fluency practice intermingles new math facts along with facts the learner has already memorized.  However, no more than two to four facts should be introduced at a time.  If a student has to answer a lot of random untaught math facts, you will have a very frustrated learner.

Practice must focus on building math fact fluency

Some students learn to solve addition problems by counting on their fingers.  That’s a good beginner strategy, but students need to get past that stage. They need to be able to simply and quickly recall the answers to math facts. An app is good for developing recall.  But the app has to ask students to answer the facts quickly, faster than they can count on their fingers.  The app has to distinguish when a student is recalling the fact (which is quick) from figuring out the fact (which is slow).  Second, the app must repeatedly ask the learned facts in a random order, so students are recalling.  But the app should not throw in new facts until all the facts are mastered and can be answered quickly.

Introduce new facts only when old facts are mastered

The trick to effectively teaching math facts is to introduce new math facts at an appropriate pace.  If you wait too long to introduce math facts, it gets boring and wastes time.  If you go too fast, students become confused.  Before introducing new facts, students need to master everything you’ve given them.  An effective app will test whether students have mastered the current batch of math facts before introducing more facts.  And it will also introduce math facts at a pace based on student mastery.  That’s the final piece of the puzzle to ensure students learn math facts from an app.

*Rocket Math App focuses on two facts and their reverses at a time, such as 3+4=7, 4+3=7, 3+5=8 and 5+3=8.

Why Multiplication Games Are Awful & What to Do About It

As a university supervisor of pre-service teachers, I’ve seen my share of bad lessons.  Among the most painful were when student teachers would try to liven up their lessons to impress me by having the students do a math game.  My student teachers wanted their students to learn math facts and to do so in a fun way.  The picture above is typical of what I would see.  Here are the reasons that most multiplication games that the student teachers implemented were awful.

(For multiplication games that work in and out of the classroom, check out Rocket Math’s Worksheet Program and Online Game.)

Waiting for your turn at a multiplication game is not learning!

As you can see in the picture above, all but one of the students are just waiting for their turn.  They aren’t doing math.  The students are just watching the student who is playing.  No one likes waiting, and your students are no exception.  Any game that has turn-taking among more than two students wastes time.

Make sure your multiplication games are structured so all or most students are engaged and playing all the time.  You want students to have as much engaging practice as possible while practicing math facts at speed.  If everyone can be doing that at the same time, that’s optimal.  No more than two students should be taking turns at a time.

A multiplication game that allows using a known strategy to figure out facts (like finger counting) is not learning!

Learning math facts involves memorizing these facts so that students know them by memory, by recall.  Committing facts to memory is why there is a need for lots of practice.  If the game allows time for students to count on their fingers or use some other strategy for figuring out the answer to facts, then there is no incentive for students to get better.

In the lower left corner of the picture you can see one student counting on their fingers—which is better than just watching—but is not learning the facts, it is just figuring them out.  The most able students in an elementary school are able to memorize facts on their own when they tire of figuring them out day in and day out.  But the rest of the students will just do their work patiently year after year without memorizing if you don’t create the conditions for them to memorize facts.

Make sure that your multiplication games reward remembering facts quickly rather than just figuring them out.  Speed should be the main factor after accuracy.  Fast-paced games are more fun and the point should be that the more facts you learn the better you’ll do.

Multiplication games that randomly present ALL the facts make learning impossible.

It is a basic fact of learning that no one can memorize a bunch of similar things all at once.  To memorize information, like math facts, the learner must work on a few, two to four facts, at a time.  With sufficient practice, every learner can memorize a small number of math facts. Once learners master a set of math facts, they can learn another batch.  But if a whole lot are presented all at once, it is impossible for the learner to memorize them.

Make sure your multiplication games are structured so that each student is presented with only facts they know.  A good game presents only a few facts at a time.  As students learn some of the math facts, more can be added, but at a pace that allows the learner to keep up.  The optimal learning conditions are for the learner to have a few things to learn in a sea of already mastered material.

Rocket Math Multiplication Games

We designed Rocket Math games to help kids gradually (and successfully) master math skills. Students use Rocket Math’s Worksheet Program to practice with partners, then take timings. Students can also individually develop math fact fluency—from any device, anywhere, any time of day—with Rocket Math’s Online Game.

Math Teaching Strategy #1: Help students memorize math facts

Once students know the procedure, they should stop counting and memorize!

When it comes to math facts like 9 plus 7 or 8 times 6 there are only two things to know.  1) A procedure to figure it out, which shows that you understand the “concept.”  2) What’s the answer?

It is important for students to understand the concept and to have a reliable procedure to figure out the answer to a math fact.  But there is no need for them to be required to use the laborious counting process over and over and over again!  Really, if you think about it, even though this student is doing his math “work” he is not learning anything. 

Math teaching strategy:  Go ahead and memorize those facts.

(It won’t hurt them a bit.  They’ll like it actually.)

Once students know the procedure for figuring out a basic fact, then they should stop figuring it out and just memorize the answer.  Unlike capitals and countries in the world, math facts are never going to change.  Once you memorize that 9 plus 7 is 16, it’s good for a lifetime.  Memorizing math facts makes doing arithmetic MUCH easier and faster.  Hence our tagline

Rocket Math: Because going fast is more fun!

Memorizing facts is the lowest level of learning.  It’s as easy as it gets.  But memorizing ALL the facts, which are similar, is kind of a long slog.  Some kids just naturally absorb the facts and memorize them.

Math teaching strategy: Find a systematic way for students to memorize.

A lot of students don’t learn the facts and keep counting them out over and over again.  They just need a systematic way of learning the facts.  Students need to spend as much time as necessary on each small set of facts to get them fully mastered.  If the facts are introduced too fast, they start to get confused, and it all breaks down.  Each student should learn at their own pace and learn each set of facts until it is automatic–answered without hesitation and without having to think about it.  This can be accomplished by everyone, if practice is carefully and systematically set up.  It should be done, because the rest of math is either hard or easy depending on knowing those facts.  And don’t get me started about why equivalent fractions are hard!

 

Math teaching strategies #3: Teach computation procedures using consistent language

Improv can be entertaining, but it will frustrate students trying learn a procedure.

Much of math, and especially computation, is about learning a process or a set of procedures. [I am assuming you are practical enough to know that we cannot expect elementary aged children to re-discover all of mathematics on their own, as some people recommend.]

Learning a procedure means knowing “What’s next?”  If you ever learned a procedure (for example a recipe) you know that it is between steps, when you ask yourself, “What’s next?” that you need help from the written recipe.  Students are no different.  Just showing them what to do is usually not enough for them to be able to follow in your footsteps.  You need to teach them the steps of the procedure.  As with anything you teach, you are going to confuse your students if you do things in a different order, or with different words, or different steps.  What you call things, and some of how you explain yourself, and some of the sequence of doing the procedure is arbitrary.  If you are improvising you will do things differently each time and your students will be confused.  At a minimum you need  it written down.

Math teaching strategy: Use a script or a process chart to keep the instructions consistent.

We know a lot about how to help students learn a procedure.  We know we need to consistently follow the same set of steps in the same order, until students have learned it.  We know we need to explicitly tell students the decisions they must make while working so they know what to do and when, in other words, we have to make our thinking process overt.  We know we need to be consistent in our language of instruction so that students benefit from repetition of examples.  And finally, we know we need to careful in our selection of problems so that we demonstrate with appropriate examples how the new process works and where it does not work.

Guess what?  You can’t do all of that when you are improvising your instruction and making up the directions on the fly. To be able to do all that, you need a script and pre-selected examples.  Many teachers have been taught to use a chart of steps, posted in their classroom, to which they refer as they model a procedure.  The same effect can be achieved with a script, so that the teacher uses the same wording along with the same steps in the same order.  If you improvise, it won’t always be the same, which will confuse your students.

You have to learn when and how to make decisions.  Every math procedure involves looking at the situation and making decisions about what and how to do what needs to be done.  You have to know what operation to use, when to borrow, when to carry, where to write each digit and so on.  Because you as the teacher already know how to do the procedure, it is tricky to remember to explain your thinking.

Math teaching strategy: Teach a consistent rule for every decision students must make.

Good teaching involves first explaining your decision-making and then giving your students practice in making the right decision in the given circumstances and finally to make them explain why–using the rule you used in the first place.   First, you teach something like, “Bigger bottom borrows” to help students decide when to borrow.  Then you prompt them to explain how they know whether or not to borrow.  All of that should be asked and answered in the right place and at the right time.  A script or a posted process chart will help you remember all the decisions that have to be made, and what to look at to make the right one.  Without a script it is very unlikely that you will remember the exact wording each time.  You need a script to be able to deliver consistent language of instruction.

Math teaching strategy: Plan ahead to carefully choose the right examples. 

With some math procedures it is quite hard to choose the right examples.  The fine points can be obscured when the examples the teacher happens to come up with, are not quite right.  The examples may be an exception or handled differently in a way the procedure has not taught.  So for example borrowing across a zero is different than across other numerals so the numbers in a minuend must be chosen carefully rather than off the cuff.

Also, when teaching a procedure it is essential to teach when to use the procedure and when not to use that procedure.  It is important that the teacher present “non-examples,” that is, problems in which you don’t follow that procedure.  I have seen students who are taught, for example, borrowing, using only examples that need borrowing.  Then they turn around and borrow in every problem–because that is what they were taught.  They should have been taught with a few non-examples mixed in, that is, problems where borrowing wasn’t necessary so they learned correctly when to borrow as well as how to borrow.   Choosing teaching examples on the fly will often end up with more confusion rather than less.

If it bothers you to see students as frustrated as the one above, then find* or write out a script for teaching computation so that you can be consistent and effective.  Trust me, your students will love you for it.

* You may want to look at the “Learning Computation” programs within the Rocket Math Universal subscription.  Here are links to blogs on them:  Addition, Subtraction, and Multiplication.  These are sensible, small steps, clearly and consistently scripted so each skill builds on the next.