Facts practice: does it belong in middle school math?

It sure does, if you’re seeing this happen in your class!

Most middle school math teachers confide to me that their classrooms are negatively impacted by the number of students who stop to count out facts on their fingers.  Their issue was always what to do during facts practice with the other students who do know their facts.  It has taken a couple of years but I have put together a package of pre-algebra skills that are worth middle school students’ time practicing which are available in the Universal Subscription. Because the routine of Rocket Math is the same whether the students are practicing basic multiplication facts or learning equivalent fractions you’ll be able to manage all these different levels during the same ten-minute session.

Teachers know it is imperative that finger-counting middle schoolers get practice learning their facts.  Rocket Math is an excellent way to do that.  They will develop fluency and automaticity with the basic facts in an operation in a semester and from then on your lessons will be much easier.  Not only that, but a much higher proportion of the students will be finishing assignments.  There is a “Placement Probe” that can identify students who know their facts in about one minute. The students who know the basic facts of multiplication and division can be placed into the pre-algebra practice programs.

Factors Answers AFACTORS. Students probably ought to begin with the Factors program. What are the factors of 24? Answer: 1 and 24, 2 and 12, 3 and 8, 4 and 6. This is what students learn by memory from doing this program. Students practice with a partner, take a daily one minute timing, fill in a Rocket Chart, just like regular Rocket Math. 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.



Fraction Number Line GEQUIVALENT 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 in fractions is not “reducing their answers to simplest form.”  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, as well as fractions that can’t be reduced, for example three-fourths is equivalent to three-fourths.  Using the fraction number line will help with student understanding of why those fractions are equivalent.

Integers ArrowsINTEGERS (Adding and subtracting positive and negative numbers).  Integers displays problems on a vertical number line and then teaches students two rules about how to solve problems that add or subtract positive and negative numbers.

Rule 1: Go up when you add a positive number OR subtract a negative number.
Rule 2: Go down when you subtract a positive number OR add a negative number.

Students gradually learn several variations of all four types of problems.  They practice with the number line on each page and then have a chance to build fluency on the top half of the page as they work with their partner.  You will probably not be surprised that there is a one-minute test on each set.  The goals are slightly different than before.  Students are to be 100% accurate and to complete at least 80% of their rate at answering simple addition and subtraction problems.

10s, 11s, 12s Multiplication and 10s, 11s, 12s Division facts are also available in the Universal Subscription.  If you have students who think they know the basic facts, but need review, putting them into either of these programs will review the 1s through 9s facts, teach them new ones and allow them to save face.

Among these five programs there are good things for ALL middle school math students to learn, even the more advanced students.  This will enable a math teacher to devote ten minutes a day to fact practice without holding anyone back.  Everyone will have something meaningful to practice during that time.  I think this could be a huge step forward for a lot of middle school MATH classrooms.


Open letter to parents: Rocket Math HOME Apps

Dear Parents,

I designed the Rocket Math Apps to help children LEARN math facts such as 9 + 7 or 6 x 9.  Most apps have students randomly practice math facts, but aren’t much help in learning the facts in the first place!  The Rocket Math App is different because your child will be successful from the start and will gradually learn all the facts in each operation—without noticing!  They will play the app, but as they progress through the Levels A to Z they will LEARN all of the facts in sequence. Children will learn them well enough so that they don’t have to count on their fingers or stop to figure out the answer.  They will know the facts automatically so they can get on with the rest of learning math.  Take it from a long-time educator, they will begin to enjoy math once they stop struggling with figuring out facts, like this young man is doing.

HOME Versions Try it risk free! I don’t expect you to take my word for this.  If you download Rocket Math Addition HOME or Rocket Math Multiplication HOME you won’t have to pay up front.  Your child can try out the app and pass levels up through Level K for free.  At that point your child has already mastered at least 36 basic facts.  They are learning and probably enjoying it too!  Then if your child wants to continue playing Rocket Math, we ask that you purchase the app for $2.99 through an in-app purchase.  See the two icons to the left.  Please look for these free versions of the Rocket Math apps with the word HOME in their name and on their icon.

Why do we have two apps?
  I designed the Rocket Math Apps so that children couldn’t skip around and avoid the “hard” facts they need to learn.  The App follows the same careful sequence in the paper-and-pencil version that has worked in schools have for over 15 years.  Once a child starts on Addition, they have to follow the sequence through addition Level Z and into subtraction.  The app can keep track of up to three children as they work through the levels.  We have two apps because you may have another child who needs to work on Multiplication and Division.  Now you can download Rocket Math Multiplication HOME for that other child and your children can each proceed through their own sequence and take turns working on the same device.

Why do children have to take a 30-minute “battery recharge?”  So they continue to keep playing and learning the facts until they finish Level Z and know all the facts.  Through field testing of the Rocket Math Apps before publishing it, we found that children would keep playing for TOO LONG and wore themselves out.  (Learning is hard mental work!)  Children who played too long stopped playing the app and stopped learning!  Now that they can only play for five minutes at a time, they are happy to open the app after the break and do another five minutes of learning.   Take it from an education professor, learning that is spaced out like this, through short practice sessions over many days or weeks is THE BEST WAY TO LEARN.

Thanks!  And here’s to solving the problem of counting on your fingers to do math!

Sincerely, Dr. Don

PS.  Here’s a link to download a copy of this letter to share with parents.

Summer School? Use Rocket Math!

Hi Dr. Don,
We plan on using Rocket Math with our Summer School students in grades 3rd-8th. I know you recommend Multiplication for these students. We will only have these students for 12 days over the course of 3 weeks. Any thoughts on how you would implement it? Your opinion is greatly appreciated.
Yvonne K. Colland ELD – Instructional Technology Coach

Thank you, Yvonne,
Twelve days is VERY short, however students enjoy Rocket Math, if they don’t have to do it too long at one time. I would recommend three ten-minute sessions each day spread out as much as possible. So one at the start of the day, one in the middle and one just before going home. If there’s an hour or more between sessions students won’t mind. They can take it home and practice at home if they like.
The regular practice with a peer for 2-3 minutes, switch roles and take a test can be done in ten minutes.
The next thing you could do is set up the Game Center with the Race for the Stars Multiplication game set out. The Game Center has a poster for students names and they get to post their best time on each board of Race for the Stars. Students can put the 24 problems cards on race-for-the-stars-product-imagery-multiplicationeach board down next to the answers as fast as they can with a partner timing them on the included (Silent!) stopwatch. When they beat their best time on the board they get to post the new time and put a star sticker over their previous time. That would stimulate a lot of practice. Right now we have a coupon code FreeGameWithCtr that gives you the Race for the Stars game free with the purchase of item #2112 Game Center with stopwatch ($49).

Finally, if your school has iPads, or if you can have students bring in iPads or iPhones, there is the Rocket Math Multiplication App that sells for $2.99 (half that if you purchase through the Apple Education VPP).  Students can practice on that app for five minutes at a time and each device cRocket Math iOS Multiplication App Top Rated by Balefirean support up to three students.  Students love to play that game and you can print out Rocket Charts for them to keep track of their progress.  If they can take it home they’ll be sure to practice more there.

I’m not certain you could get all the students through Level Z in the three weeks you have, but you could make a big dent in it.  Most importantly they would know as many facts as they could learn which would put them ahead in learning the rest.

Do students practice sums to 12 or 18?

Julie asks:
For addition and subtraction, do students practice with sums through 12’s or 18’s? For example, 12+ 6. Thanks.

Dr. Don answers:
Hi Julie!  The Rocket Math basic program (and basic subscription) is 1s through 9s both for addition and subtraction–meaning students practice single digit sums up to 9+9 and subtracting single digit numbers up to 18-9. The Rocket Math Universal subscription provides access to the Add to 20 program which includes 7 + 12 and the Subtract from 20 program which includes 19-7. The Add to 20 and Subtract from 20 programs were added because the Common Core recommends students be fluent at adding and subtracting these numbers mentally without manipulatives.

As the picture above suggests if a student knows 7+2 is 9, it doesn’t take much to learn that 7+12 is 19. However, the Add to 20 program will give students practice with those facts. Especially for students who master the 1s through 9s facts quickly, these additional programs will cement in the basic facts learning by extending them to some teen number addends. Conversely, for students who struggle with learning the 1s though 9s facts, these extra facts should be considered optional or enrichment, in my opinion.

So I recommend first graders learn the 1s-9s addition first followed by the Add to 20. Then in second grade the 1s though 9s subtraction followed by Subtract from 20. Not everyone will get through both, but kids will see the connections doing the higher problems if they have completed 1s through 9s first. They won’t need to practice to Z before they see the patterns and can do the problems without much practice. I am happy to provide this extra option for those who can take advantage of it.

What is the Rocket Math “filing cabinet on the web?”

Jo asks:
Can you explain the “filing cabinet on the web” a little more? Is this a place a teacher can print copies for the class or does each student have to have subscription?

Dr. Don answers:
A subscription gives you access to our “filing cabinet on the web.” This is a place on the web where we keep all the worksheets and a teacher goes there to print out what is needed. You just click on what you want and print it out. Each operation has its own drawer. Each drawer looks like this:


There are five drawers that can be accessed with the $29 basic subscription: Forms and Information, Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, Division.

But wait there’s more!
There are currently 8 more drawers, the contents of which are only available to those who have the $49 Universal subscription. The 8 programs added in the Universal Subscription are: Rocket Writing for Numerals, Skip Counting, Add to 20, Subtract from 20, Multiplication 10s, 11s, and 12s, Division 10s, 11s, and 12s, Factors, and Integers. Click on the name of any of these programs and you can get more information on that program.
You can preview (before you buy) the whole subscription site here: Rocket Math Subscription preview site.

Challenge your students with the Race for the Stars Game Center!

How can you entice your students to play the Race for the Stars game in a center?

By letting them post their record/best time for completing the game boards. Race for the Stars is a great game for students to practice their math facts. The game provides 24 problems tiles students can race to put down next to the answers in the game board as fast as they can. There is now a Game Center Kit that give you everything you need to set up a center in your room that students will want to visit. The key is the poster with room for student labels with their names. Then next to their name is a place for them to write their best time at filling the game board. Well, actually their partner with the stop watch should probably write down their time. All the students in the class can rotate through the Game Center to record how fast they can fill either or both of the two game boards. One, for levels A-K are the first facts to be learned in Rocket Math. The second game board, L-Z are the facts learned in the last half of the Rocket Math levels.

But how can you motivate your students to play the game again and again to get the practice they need?

Here is the coolest part of the Race for the Stars Game Center. Students can go back and get someone to time them filling the Race for the Stars gameboard again. If the timer with the stopwatch sees that the student beat their previous best, they get to record the new record time, AND cover the old time up with a star sticker. Getting to put up a star sticker next to your name proves you were able to beat your own previous best–that is impressive! In fact, the savvy teacher will make a daily stop to see who in the class has been able to add a star sticker to the poster next to their name, showing that they beat their previous best time.

And that is how you motivate students to use the Race for the Stars Game Center (item #2112) to practice their math facts in their spare time!

What is beyond DIVISION in Rocket Math? Lots!

Walter asks:

Hi Dr. Don, Our school uses Rocket Math. I have a student who will be finishing Division Z before the school year ends. What should this student go on to next if he finishes early? Thanks!

Dr. Don answers:

Walter,   There are several options beyond division in Rocket Math.  These programs are part of item #2000 the $49 Universal subscription. You can click on each of these to see more about them and what they look like. We have the 10s, 11s, and 12s in Multiplication and the 10s, 11s, and 12s in Division. Some people really think those are valuable, and these programs provide a great way to memorize these facts and review the ones already known. Personally, I think knowing up through the 9s is probably sufficient but we have them if you want them.

Another skill that students can start learning after division 1s-9s is how to find all the factors of common numbers. One of the other programs available in the Universal subscription is Rocket Math Factors. We teach a specific procedure for how to start and how to know when you are done finding all the factors of a given number. I did a whiteboard lesson on the procedure for factoring available here at educreations. Then I build a program to practice listing the factors of common numbers that builds this skill to a fluent level. Students enjoy getting good at factors and fractions are going to be much easier once these are known.

Another skill that students can start learning after division is Rocket Math Integers. Students in pre-algebra often find adding and subtracting positive and negative numbers to be difficult and confusing. We have broken this skill down into six component parts and teach two rules which tell students what to do and when. We use vertical number lines to illustrate each problem so that going “up” on the number line is more and going “down” is less. Each type of problem gets practiced first with the vertical number lines and then with a partner and then in a test. There are special rules to set goals no faster than is reasonable.

All of these programs use the same structure as the rest of Rocket Math. There are 26 lettered sets to work through. There are daily practice sessions with a partner who can use answer keys. (Important if only one student is in that program). And of course, there are daily 1-minute timings which can be taken at the same time as everyone else takes their 1-minute timing. Teachers have reported to me that students are really proud to go “beyond division” and enjoy learning these new and prestigious skills. It will be a draw for other students to pass division as well.

New Home version of Rocket Math Addition & Multiplication Apps

Rocket Math has come out with new HOME versions of its Rocket Math Addition and Rocket Math Multiplication apps. These allow home users to switch back and forth from the mission of learning addition/subtraction facts to the mission of learning multiplication/division facts on the same device. The two HOME versions are separate as they are in the school version.

How is the HOME version different from the school version you ask? Practice is exactly the same in both versions. The difference is that the HOME version allows users to download and try out the app for FREE. A user can work all the way up to Level K and really see what the app is like before being asked to pay for it. The cost is $2.99 (same as the school version) but it is through an in-app purchase which is why this app is not good for schools to download. After the in-app purchase the app continues through Level Z of the first operation and then moves on to the second operation.

We think that teachers can confidently recommend that parents try this free app at home, and then purchase it only after they are certain their child wants to keep practicing. As before, the app is a separate mode of practice and cannot be used to “cram” for a given level in the paper-and-pencil version at school. Instead, the student will be learning and strengthening their knowledge of the facts in a different mode, but following the same sequence.

The HOME versions are available only through iTunes. Click here for links to the ordering page for
Rocket Math HOME Addition and
Rocket Math HOME multiplication.

We think you’ll really enjoy learning through these apps!

How can you improve writing speed?

Tina asks:
Hello Don,
Do you have any recommendations for improving writing speed? My son’s school does not use Rocket Math, but we use it at home. He knows his addition facts rather quickly orally, but is stuck at a much lower level at school because he cannot write them fast enough.
Thanks, Tina

Dr. Don answers:
That is a very good question. Yes, you can improve writing speed. Increasing writing speed will come with practice, but a special kind of practice. The biggest problem slow writers have is that they “draw” the numerals. That is to say, they decide how to make the numerals look like they should and then draw them, rather than having a set way of doing the numbers. Step 1 is for them to learn how to most efficiently write the numerals using strokes that consistently go down and from left to write. Students need to learn the right way to form the numerals and then practice it exactly the same way over and over until it becomes habit. In Step 2 the students need to practice writing the numerals small enough to fit on the line, while still forming them the right way. In Step 3 and 4 students need to practice writing the numerals until they are fluent (speedy and still form them correctly and legibly).

To move through these steps it helps to have a program to assist you in doing each of those phases. Luckily, I created just such a program, called Rocket Writing for Numerals. There are a total of 72 pages that takes the student through the four phases. Each phase has its own chapter. You can see a page for each phase in the picture above.

A student can practice each page of Rocket Writing several times. How many times you ask? See my blog on the topic of How much practice is enough in Rocket Writing, because it is interesting to see that you can arrange it so that you trust your son to know how much practice he needs.

Rocket Writing for Numerals is part of the $49 Universal subscription. If you only have a basic subscription, you can upgrade to that for $20 and right now there is a coupon code to get a bargain on it. Enter Upgrade15%off

How much practice is enough in Rocket Writing for Numerals?

Students balance a desire for comfortable mastery against a desire for novelty.

A home-schooling mom asks:
After having read the Rocket Writing for Numerals teacher’s directions, I have a question about implementation: Should I have her do the same page twice in one day (at separate times) to help her get more practice? After re-reading the teacher directions again today, I also think I need to go back and do more demonstration and air writing.

Dr. Don answers:
Regarding Rocket Writing for Numerals, the focus of the air writing and demonstrations is to achieve accuracy and consistency in the way to form the numeral. Once she consistently knows how to form the letter (starting in the right place, making the strokes in the right direction, etc) then the rest is developing the motor skills. More air writing is not needed once formation is consistently correct.

Yes, you can have her do a page twice in a day. How many days in a row is needed before you can move on to a new page is not established by research. It would be different for each student anyway. If you watch her, then you can decide, or you can encourage her to decide.

You want a page to become easy or routine for her. She doesn’t have to do it perfectly, but don’t move on if she still seems to be struggling or having to go very slowly. You should move on if she seems to be unchallenged by the page. You can also engage her in deciding if she feels she is ready to go on to the next sheet or wants to practice on the same page some more. Generally, once children get the idea of what it feels like to master a performance, they want to do so and students balance that desire for comfortable mastery against a desire for novelty. My favorite image is of skateboarders in the park who practice and practice until they have a particular move down–but then move on to try something new when they think they have it.