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.

The Online Game never teaches anything wrong.

Are your students complaining that the Online Game said they were wrong, when they were right?  This is similar to a problem we found with students and their checkers in the Worksheet Program. Bear with me a second while I explain.

In the Worksheet Program students often complain to their teacher that their checker made them do the problem over, even though they weren’t wrong.  Trying to adjudicate such a dispute is nearly impossible, as veteran teachers have learned the hard way.  The extra practice didn’t hurt the students and you’re going to be inundated with complaints if you try to adjudicate them. In workshops we always counseled teachers to respond to such complaints with, “The checker is always right.  Just do the problem over again.”

The extra practice that the Online Game) makes a student do is never harmful.  The problem and the answer that Mission Control gives is never wrong.  When students complain to you about the game telling them a right answer was wrong, just tell the student, “The game is always right. Just do the problem over again.

The Online Game only says right answers, so it’s not wrong.

The correction procedure says both the problem and the correct answer.   Students may say, “But, that’s what I put!” They are not confused. They are just complaining that they were “unjustly” corrected.  An unjust correction is relatively unimportant compared to an actual error.

The program never says a student’s answer is “wrong.”  The game does a correction whenever it does not process the correct answer within the time limit.  The student may hit the correct answer just a fraction of a second too late to be processed by the game. Even though correct, the game will say “Time’s Up” and do a correction.

Sometimes a student misses the button they mean to hit, they make a “typo,” and the game buzzes and the screen shakes “no.” Sometimes, a glitch occurs and it skips ahead to the next problem and processes the last answer as incorrect. However, the game can only say a problem and its correct answer as those are the only words that are recorded.  There are no recorded errors.  For example the game will say, “Six plus two equals eight. Go again.”  After that the game waits for the student to enter the correct answer AND waits for the student to hit the checkmark. No amount of arguing, “But that is what I put!” or “But that wasn’t the problem I was answering” will change it.

The extra practice caused by an “unjust correction” is not harmful.

Students should listen to Mission Control while it is displaying and saying a problem and the correct answer.  Then the game will show the problem just stated without the answer.  Students will know what they should do. They should just enter the answer and hit the checkmark.  Students should just do the problem over again regardless of whether or not they think they entered the right answer.  The game never says anything incorrect and the extra practice won’t hurt them. While an unjust red “X” for an error seems terrible to students, it will not do anything other than give them more practice, which is good for them.

We  offer a $50 gift certificate to the store of your choice if you can capture an error by the game on video, as we have never seen the game make an error and can’t replicate the problem.

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.

In What Order Should Students Learn Fast Math Facts?

Basic, Optional, and Alternative—there are a lot of different Rocket Math programs. But which program should you use first? And in what order should you teach fast math facts? Well, it all depends on the grade you teach and the fast math facts your students have already memorized.

An overview of Rocket Math’s fast math fact programs

Rocket Math offers multiple programs because their are several ways to teach fast math facts. Here’s a link to a printable version of the different Rocket Math programs shown here.

The Basic Program

Rocket Math’s basic program includes Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, and Division (1s-9s). The basic program must be mastered by all students.

A chart that shows the set of math fact family 5, 3, and 2 in Addition and Subtraction.The Alternative Program: Fact Families

There is another way to learn facts, which is called Fact Family math.  Instead of learning all Addition facts, students can learn Addition and Subtraction facts at the same time.  A fact family consists of four related facts, for example: 3+2 = 5, 2 + 3 = 5, 5 – 3 = 2, 5 – 2 = 3.  As an alternative to using the Basic Program, students can learn fact families up to 10 in first grade.  Then students can move on to the upper fact families 11 to 18 in second grade.  There is no clear evidence that this way is better or the separate operations way is better.  That’s why we offer both options.

Optional Programs

The rest of the fast math facts programs like Rocket Writing for Numerals or Skip Counting are optional. You should only offer these programs to students once they have memorized the fast math facts through the Basic Program or the Alternative Program.

The only exception would be in a school where Kindergarten students did not get a chance to learn how to quickly and easily write numerals. In that case, you might take the first two months of the first grade year to run students through Rocket Writing for Numerals before beginning Addition (1s-9s).

Let’s take a closer look at how to implement each program in different grade levels.

First grade math facts: Learn Addition

Rocket Math fast math facts programs for first graders include:

  • The Basic Program
    • (1s-9s) Addition
  • The Alternative Program
    • Fact Families (1-10) Add & Subtract
  • Optional Programs
    • Rocket Writing for Numerals
    • Add to 20

If first grade students are taking all year to get through sets A-Z in Addition in the Basic Program, they need some extra help.  You should intervene to help students who take more than a week to pass a level.  Often they need to practice better or practice with a better partner.  Some may need to practice a second time during the day or at home in the evening.  First grade students who finish the 1s-9s can move on to the Add to 20 Optional Program for the remainder of the year.

Likewise, if you choose to teach Fact Families (1-10) Add & Subtract from the Alternative Program instead of using the Basic Program, your students can use the Optional Programs for supplemental learning purposes.

Second grade math facts: Learn Addition and Subtraction

Rocket Math fast math facts programs for second graders include:

  • The Basic Program
    • (1s-9s) Addition
    • (1s-9s) Subtraction
  • The Alternative Program
    • Fact Families (1-10) Add & Subtract
    • Fact Families Part Two (11-18) Add & Subtract
  • Optional Programs
    • Subtract from 20
    • Skip Counting

Second grade students must have completed Addition before starting on Subtraction (1s-9s).  They can also test out of Addition through the Placement Probes.  Second graders who cannot test out of Addition in first grade or didn’t complete it in first grade must focus on Addition.  Only after getting through Set Z of Addition should they move into Subtraction.

You can substitute the Basic Program’s (1s-9s) Addition and (1s-9s) Subtraction for the Alternative Program’s Fact Families (1-10) Add & Subtract and Fact Families Part Two (11-18) Add & Subtract.

Second grade students who complete Addition and Subtraction 1s-9s (or the Alternative Program) can move on to Subtract from 20.  Students who finish Subtract from 20 can do Skip Counting, which does a great job of preparing students to learn Multiplication facts.

Third grade math facts: Learn Multiplication

There aren’t any Alternative Programs available for third graders from Rocket Math. There are only Basic and Optional Programs. These include:

  • The Basic Program
    • (1s-9s) Multiplication (priority)
    • (1s-9s) Addition
    • (1s-9s) Subtraction
  • Optional Programs
    • 10s, 11s, 12s Multiplication
    • Factors

In third grade, Multiplication has priority—even if students have not mastered Addition and Subtraction.  Multiplication facts are so integral to the rest of higher math that students are even more crippled without Multiplication facts than they are having to count Addition and Subtraction problems on their fingers.  So do Multiplication first. Then, if there’s time, students who need to do so can go back and master Addition and Subtraction.  Once all three of these basic operations are under their belts, students can go on to 10s, 11s, 12s in Multiplication (one of the Optional Programs).  If students successfully progress through each program and there is enough time left in the school year, introduce the Factors program next.

Fourth grade math facts: Learn Multiplication and Division

Like the programs for third graders, there aren’t any Alternative Programs available for fourth graders. There are only Basic and Optional Programs, which include:

  • The Basic Program
    • (1s-9s) Multiplication (priority)
    • (1s-9s) Division (second priority)
  • Optional Programs
    • 10s, 11s, 12s Multiplication
    • Factors

In fourth grade, students need to have completed Multiplication before going on to Division. If they complete Division, they can go on to 10s, 11s, 12s Division, followed by Factors, and then equivalent fractions (shown in the fifth grade section below).

Fifth grade math facts: Learn all basic operations first, then they can branch out

By fifth grade, students should have completed all four basic operations (1s-9s) within the Basic Program (or the Alternative Program for grades one and two).  If students have not completed these basics (and cannot test out of them with the Placement Probes) then the sequence they should follow is Multiplication, followed by Division, then go back and complete Addition followed by Subtraction.  The same recommendations hold for students in any grade after fifth.

Once students have mastered the basics (1s-9s add, subtract, multiply, divide), the supplemental pre-algebra programs are recommended.  These will help more than learning the 10s, 11s, 12s facts.  I would recommend this order:

  1. Factors
  2. Equivalent Fractions
  3. Learning to Add Integers
  4. Learning to Subtract Integers or Mixed Integers

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.

How to Grade 1-Minute Math Fluency Practice Tests

Katy L from Wilson Elementary asks: How can I keep up with everyday Rocket Math grading? Do you teach students to grade their own 1-minute math fluency practice tests?

Dr. Don answers:

Only grade 1-minute math fluency practice tests if students pass

An integral part of the Rocket Math Worksheet Program is the 1-minute math fluency practice test. One-minute fluency practice tests are administered every day, to the whole class, and only after students practice in pairs for two to three minutes each. Check out the FAQs page to learn more about conducting 1-minute math fluency practice tests in class.

Teachers do NOT need to grade, score, or check daily Rocket Math 1-minute math fluency practice tests unless the student has met their goal. Students do NOT need to grade their own daily Rocket Math fact fluency tests either.

Why grading each math test is not important

The important part of math fluency practice is the oral practice with the partner before the test–what’s going on in this picture. Because the students are orally practicing every day and getting corrections from their partners, there should be VERY FEW errors on the 1-minute math fluency written tests.  

Correcting written tests doesn’t help students learn anyway. Corrections are only helpful if they are immediate, the student has to acknowledge the correct answer, and remember it for a few seconds–all of which is part of the oral correction procedure. “Correcting” what’s on the paper takes a lot of time and does not help students learn more, so it shouldn’t be done. But you have to check them before declaring that the student has passed a level.

How do you know if a student passes?

Students should have a packet of 6 sheets math fact fluency sheets at their level. Each Rocket Math student has an individual goal. For example, if a student has a goal of 32 (based on their Writing Speed Test) and they only do 31, they know they did not pass. If the student does 32 or more, they pass!

What to do when a student beats their goal (passes)

If a student meets or beats their goal, then have them stand up, take a bow, and then turn their folder into a place where you check to see that all problems were answered correctly. When YOU check (after school?), make sure all of the completed problems were correct and the student met their goal. If so, then you put the unused sheets in that packet back into the filing crate and re-fill the student’s folder with a packet of 6 worksheets at the next level and hand the folder back the next day.

When students receive the new packet of worksheets, they know to color in another letter on the Rocket Chart (and maybe put a star on the Wall Chart).

What to do if a student doesn’t pass?

Students who don’t meet their goals, don’t pass. These students should put the non-passing sheet into their backpacks and take the sheet home for more practice.

The next day they will use the next sheet in their packet of 6. If you want to give them points, do that the next day after they bring back their worksheet where they did a session at home (signature of helper should be there) and all items on the test are completed. If that’s done, they get full points.

Sometimes you’ll catch errors on sheets that students turn in as “passes.” If you see an error, the student doesn’t pass. As a result, the student keeps the old packet and has to continue with that same level worksheet.

For more information about conducting 1-minute math fluency practice tests in class and how to implement the Rocket Math worksheet program, visit the FAQs page.

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!

 

Rocket Math: Can students really learn this way? (It seems too easy.)

At first, it may seem like the way Rocket Math presents the same simple facts over and over, is so easy it must be a waste of time.

       But like anything you learn, you have to start where it seems easy and then build up to where it is hard.  Rocket Math has been effective helping students learn their math facts for over 20 years.  It is designed according to scientifically designed learning principles, which is why it works, if students will work it.  Rocket Math carefully and slowly introduces facts to learn in such a way that students can achieve fluency with each set of facts as they progress through the alphabet A through Z.  Let me explain.
         Set A begins with two facts and their reverses, e.g., 2+1, 1+2, 3+1 and 1+3.  Dead simple, huh?  But in answering those the student learns what it is like to instantly “know” an answer rather than having to figure it out.  The student says to himself or herself, “Well, I know that one.”  The student learns he or she can answer a fact instantly with no hesitation every time based on recall and not figuring it out.  The game requires the student to answer the problems at a fast rate, proving that he or she knows those facts.  Once that level is passed the game adds two more facts and their reverses,.  The same process of answering them (and still remembering Set A) instantly with no hesitation every time.  When that is achieved, the game moves the student on to Set C, two more facts and their reverses.  Eventually, every student gets to a fact on which they hesitate (maybe one they have to count on their fingers), meaning they can’t answer within the 3 seconds allowed.  Mission Control then says the problem and the correct answer, has the student answer that problem, then gives two different facts to answer and goes back to check on the fact the student hesitated on again.  If the student answers within 3 seconds then the game moves on.
 
     In the Take-Off phase the student is introduced to the two new facts and their reverses.  That’s all the student has to answer.  But the student has to answer each one instantly.  If the student is hesitant on any of those facts (or makes an error) then they have to Start Over and do the Take-Off phase over again.  They have to do 12 in a row without an error or a hesitation.  Once the Take-Off phase is passed the student goes into the Orbit phase, where there is a mix of recently introduced facts along with the new facts.  The student has to answer up to 30 facts, and is allowed only two errors or hesitations. After the third error or hesitation the student has to Start Over on the Orbit Phase.  Once the Orbit phase is passed, the student goes on to the Universe phase, which mixes up all the facts learned so far and presents them randomly.  Again the student has to do up to 30 problems and can only hesitate on 2 or them or he or she has to start over.  But once the student proves that all of those facts can be answered without hesitation, the game moves on to the next level, introducing two more facts and their reverses.
      In the Worksheet Program, students practice with a partner.  In the Online Game the student practices with the computer.  In both versions of Rocket Math the students follow the same careful sequence and slowly, but successfully build mastery of all of the facts in an operation.  It’s hard work and takes a while, but we try to make it fun along the way.  It will work for everybody, but not everybody is willing to do the work.  At least, now you understand how Rocket Math is designed so it can teach mastery of math facts.