A—What is the overview of how Rocket Math® runs?

Please, please, please DO NOT attempt to run the program after reading only this overview. It would not be a good thing. Someone could get hurt. OK, so not really, but it really isn’t a good idea. Trust me on this one!  Watch this video at least!

Start with initial assessments

  1. Administer the one-minute Writing Speed Test.
  2. Use the Goal sheet to select goals for each student based on writing speed.
  3. Begin the whole class at Set A or administer the Placement Probes.

Set in Place the daily routine

  1. Each student has the lettered sheet on which they’re working.
  2. Each student has an answer key packet.
  3. Students practice in pairs for two to three minutes each.
    1. Student says the facts and the answers around the outside of the sheet.
    2. Partner with answer key fixes up hesitations and errors.
    3. After two to three minutes the students switch roles.
  4. Students record their goal for the one-minute timing test inside the box.
  5. One-minute timing test inside the box is administered to the whole class.
  6. All students record the date for this try on the Rocket Chart.
  7. Students who pass — meet or beat their goal (previous high score):
    1. Turn in test sheet to the teacher for checking
    2. Move on to a new practice/test sheet the next day
    3. Color in their Rocket Chart and are recognized in some way
  8. Student who do not pass:
    1. Take home the current sheet for homework practice
    2. Work on the same practice/test sheet again the next day.

Routine for weekly two-minute timing

  1. Administer the same two-minute timing to all students working in an operation.
  2. Teacher times for two minutes
  3. Students correct each others’ two-minute timings.
  4. Teacher monitors students charting their scores on the Individual Student Graph.
  5. Teacher recognizes anyone who beats their previous best score.

B—What is automaticity? and Why is it important?

Automaticity is the third stage of learning. (Buckle up. We need to review a bit of Ed. Theory here. Ed who? No, Education Theory. Don’t worry, it won’t be painful and it is really quite smart and interesting.)

Here’s an illustrated video explanation instead.  This Marine Corps band demonstrates automaticity.

First we learn facts to the level of accuracy — we can do them correctly if we take our time and concentrate.

Second we learn facts to the level of fluency.  Next, if we continue practicing, we can develop fluency. Then we can go quickly without making mistakes.

Third we can learn facts to the level of automaticity.  Finally, after fluency, if we keep practicing we can develop automaticity. Automaticity is when we can go quickly without errors and without much conscious attention. We can perform other tasks at the same time and still perform quickly and accurately. Automaticity with math facts means we can answer any math fact instantly and without having to stop and think about it. In fact, one good description of automaticity is that it is “obligatory” — you can’t help but do it. Students who are automatic in decoding can’t help but read a word if you hold it up in front of them. Similarly students who are automatic with their math facts can’t help but think of the answer to a math fact when they say the problem to themselves. (See, that didn’t hurt much huh?)

Automaticity with math facts is important because the whole point of learning math facts is to use them in the service of higher and more complex math problems. We want students to be thinking about the complex process, the problem-solving or the multi-step algorithm they are learning — not having to stop and ponder the answer to simple math facts. (Taking off their shoes and socks to count toes is a good indication that perhaps automaticity is not present!) So not only do we want them accurate and fast (fluent) but we also want them to be thinking about other things at the same time (automaticity). One characteristic of students who lack automaticity in math facts is that their math work is full of simple, easy-to-fix errors. We used to call these “careless errors.” But these errors stem from not knowing math facts to automaticity — the student can either focus on getting the facts correct or on getting the procedures correct — but cannot focus on both at the same time. So helping students learn math facts to automaticity will improve their ability to learn and retain higher order math skills— because they won’t be distracted by trying to remember math facts.

C—Just what do I have to print out?

The first question most teachers ask us is about what they have to print out, so we’ll deal with that first. And no, the copyright police will not come and get you. You have a subscription to our virtual filing cabinet so you may print from it.  There are three categories of things to print.

(1) Print four things for student folders

You must print four things for each student.  Three things need to be stapled into or onto each child’s folder (yes, a folder for each child!). So you have to print enough for your class.

  • The Rocket Chart (stapled on the front of the folder)
  • The Goal Sheet (stapled on the inside left)
  • The Individual Student Graph(stapled on the inside right).

The fourth thing you also have to print but keep it loose in the folder:

  • The Writing Speed Test

These first four things are found in the virtual filing cabinet in the Forms and Information DRAWER, under Forms for Every Student.


(2) Print A to Z Answer Key booklets (on colored paper) for every student.

You will have to decide what operation you are going to have everyone start on.  Usually Addition or Multiplication, but more on that decision here: With what operation do I start?

The Answer Keys can be found in A-Z booklet form in each Learning Track drawer.


I knew you’d need these in booklet form, so they are already connected together.  When you go into the Learning Track look for the Answer Keys.  For students working together you want the Practice Answer Keys.  When you click on it, the A-Z booklet pops up and you just hit the print button and send it to your printer–after you have loaded some colored paper in the printer.

Print enough booklets (on colored paper) for your class.  If you’re really lucky you might have a printer that staples the booklets for you.  [Know that you are really lucky!]  It will take a bunch of paper but once it’s done you’re set!

Rocket Math does not work if the checkers don’t have an answer key.

In order to be corrected when they are practicing each student’s partner must have an answer key to the page on which they are practicing.  Without an answer key, students could practice errors, or get stumped and start trying to count on their fingers or something. Students can’t learn if their partner doesn’t have an answer key to help them.

The answer key has to be in color for you to monitor practice.

See the pair of students pictured above.  When you look at them, you know they are doing it right because one of them has a colored answer key booklet and the other doesn’t!  When you look out over the students paired up in your room, you need to know that every pair has an answer key out but only one answer key out.  When the answer keys are not in color it will be hard to find the problem pairs.  But problems will be there, for sure!  Some pairs of students will both have answer keys and will be pretending to learn when they are just reading.  Other pairs of students will both have problem pages and the checker won’t be able to catch errors.  But without colored answer keys you won’t be able to see who is not paired up right. So it is VERY important to make these packets in color.  I mean, so important that you should go to the office supply store and get your own personal ream of colored paper if your school does not have it available.  It is well worth the $20 or so.  Otherwise, it will be a very long year!

You need every student to have their own answer key so they can practice anywhere with anyone at any time.

Here are four examples of issues that make it preferable for each student to have their own answer key, and yes, it should be on colored paper.

1) When students are absent you must pair two students but under the one-answer-key-per-pair both students could be “without” answer keys!  In both cases, their partner has the answer key and that folder is in their desk.

2) When someone comes in to help or volunteer, you want Johnny to practice Rocket Math with that person–but Johnny doesn’t have an answer key–his partner does. So Johnny has to go searching for an answer key.  If Johnny had his own answer key he could just get out his Rocket Math folder and go to work.

3)  The Title 1 or Special Ed teacher or instructional assistant might offer to do extra practice with a student, the student takes his/her folder down to the a place to practice–but doesn’t have an answer key.

4) Alex moves up to division, but his partner doesn’t have an answer key to division–another example where Alex needs his own answer key.

Printing answer keys out in booklet form will save a lot of time and trouble.

This is hard-won knowledge based on experience. It is just a whole lot easier to have these printed out once and distributed once at the beginning of an operation than it is to keep changing to the next answer sheet.

Each of those scenarios above are going to be a problem if you only give students one answer key at a time.  You don’t want to have to replace the answer key every time a student moves to another set or level.  You don’t want to have students who want to practice but don’t have the answer to the set they are working on.  If you make the answer key booklets up, on colored paper, and staple them together they are set until they finish the operation.  We have also found that some of those answer key booklets survive and can be used again the following year.

(3) Optional to copy the Placement Probes.

You may need to copy something else to put into everyone’s folder, if you plan to use it:

  • The Placement Probes for the operation you are starting. You don’t have to use placement probes, especially if your students are new to memorizing math facts.  How you decide when to use the Placement Probes and when not to can be found in the section on “Why would I want to give the Placement Probes?” (How is that for clear?)

If you do want to use the placement probes, you can find them in the virtual filing cabinet under each separate operation. Here’s what they look like in the Addition Drawer.

D—Just what do I have to set up?

You have a week or two to get this ready, but don’t put it off. You get to go to the office supply store. Yea! We know teachers’ affinity for those. We love them too!

You are also going to need to have files (hanging files are highly recommended…yes we know your school does not stock these, ours didn’t either!) for each set (marked by letters) and each progress monitoring test (marked by numbers) in the operation with which you are starting. [That’s a total of 34 hanging files–in case you’re wondering.] OK, we can hear you asking, “But how do I know which operation to begin with?” We’ll get to that in just a bit. If you can’t wait, just jump ahead to the section entitled, “What operation do I begin with?”


You’re going to need a place to put your 34 hanging files, probably one of those plastic crates (and no your school doesn’t stock these, ours didn’t either…). [If the office supply store is not a fun option for you we do sell a crate and hanging files to be shipped to you.] If you teach a grade over second, you’re going to want to have the files somewhere the students can get to them easily—so they can get their own replacement sheets. (Scary thought: you may end up having more than one of these as your students move on to other operations!) In your crate you’ll need a hanging file for each set of facts (marked by A to Z letters) and each progress monitoring test (AKA “The two-minute test”) (marked by numbers 1 to 5).

Get the Crate Started Now

Q: How many copies should I put into each folder?

A: At least enough for your whole class. Plan on keeping 25 or 30 copies in each file, so you’ll always be ready for the program to run. Don’t make too much more than that, as you don’t know how many times your students will need to repeat each set, so you can’t predict how many they will need. Plus, the office will get mad at you for running two hundred copies of 30 sheets (and using up a whole box of paper—6,000 pages or 12 reams!…We speak from experience. Our schools got mad at us!)

E—What operation do I begin with? and When are students ready to begin memorization?

Here is our basic recommendation:

Grade 1 Addition 1s-9s, followed by Add to 20
Grade 2 Addition, then when addition is fluent—Subtraction
Grade 3 Multiplication (a good option is to start with Skip Counting first)
Grade 4 Multiplication, then when it is fluent—division.
Grade 5 If basic operations are fluent, you can do Factors, Fractions, Integers, or 10s, 11s, and 12s.

Yes, even for those poor kids who are still adding and subtracting on their fingers in the upper grades! Why? See below in “Why do multiplication facts have priority in 4th grade and up?”

Please don’t start children on subtraction facts until you are certain that addition facts have been mastered. Use the placement tests to see whether or not they are fluent with addition, or where to begin in addition. “What’s fluent?” you ask. See the section entitled “What is fluent performance on math facts?” Sorry you asked? Then after they are fluent with addition, and you know they are fluent, you can begin with subtraction.

Why? The two operations of addition and subtraction are very similar—being just the reverse of each other. Because of their similarity, a person trying to memorize some subtraction facts before the addition facts have been firmly committed to memory, will experience proactive and retroactive inhibition. Those are fancy psychological terms for confusion—but a special kind of confusion. “There are special kinds of confusion?” you ask. Why, yes there are. This special kind of confusion occurs whenever a person begins to try to learn something that is too similar to something the person is still in the process of learning. The new information conflicts with the recently not-quite learned information and vice versa and…VIOLA… confusion!

Please don’t start children with division facts (this may sound familiar!) until you are certain that multiplication facts have been mastered. Yep… confusion! Use the placement tests to see whether or not they are fluent with multiplication, or where they should begin memorizing multiplication facts. Then, after they are fluent with multiplication, and you know they are fluent, you can begin with division. The reasons are the same as for addition and subtraction above.

When are students ready to begin fact memorization in an operation?

When they “understand the concept” of the operation. “And how does one know that?” you might be asking. Well, we’re going to tell you. Drum roll, please.

Children “understand” an operation when they are able to compute or figure out any fact in the operation. They can use their fingers to figure out the addition and subtraction facts. Or they can use successive addition to figure out the multiplication facts. Or they can use manipulative and get the right answer. Or they can draw lines, or horses, or dots, or cookies (we’ve seen it all) and get the answer. Somehow, some way, given any fact in the operation, and unlimited time, the child can figure out the answer. Then the child is ready to begin memorizing.

F—What about fact families? and Why do multiplication facts have priority?

What if I prefer to teach in fact families? Is that wrong?
Fact families are sets of facts that are all related such as 2+3, 3+2, 5-3, and 5-2. Teaching in fact families is absolutely not a problem, and certainly not wrong. However, you must use our materials that are set up to in fact families.  We teach only one family at a time. See our Fact Families Learning Tracks for addition/subtraction as well as multiplication/division.

Why do multiplication facts have priority in fourth grade and up?
Am I sure? Yes, I’m sure. “But,” you say, “my students are still counting addition and subtraction on their fingers.” I know. And I am still sure—fourth grade and up—multiplication. Why? Once children are in fourth grade it is critical that teachers make sure they memorize multiplication facts—primarily because you can’t be sure of how much help they will get later to learn the math facts. Sadly, the students may only learn one operation to fluency. If so, multiplication facts have priority over addition and subtraction. Besides complex multiplication and division, the multiplication facts are needed for success in fractions and ratios. Students have to immediately see the relationships between numbers in order to understand topics like equivalent fractions, reducing fractions, combining unlike fractions, as well as ratios. Let’s be honest here…those are the things that state tests LOVE to ask about. And more importantly, these are the pre-algebra skills students need to master to be successful in, and to pass, algebra!

If you have the students for long enough (at least one year) you may find that they finish and have mastered both multiplication and division facts. Then you can go back and have them learn addition and subtraction facts as well. Don’t get me wrong — I know that addition and subtraction facts are VERY IMPORTANT — it’s just that multiplication is MORE IMPORTANT.

G—How fast is fast enough? and What about students who can’t write 40 problems per minute?

How fast is fast enough in answering math facts problems?
Given a problem that the student reads either silently or orally, after reading the problem, the answer should come nearly instantly—less than a one second delay. (If you know something well, you don’t have to stop and think about it. For example, if someone asks you your name, you can answer without any delay. Same thing here.) In a one-minute timing of math facts, fluent performance is answering 40 problems per minute. This is true for answering orally (just saying the answers, not the problems and the answers). Children who are fluent can say the answers to 40 fact problems in one minute. This is also true for answering in writing — if the students can write fast enough to write the answers to 40 problems in a minute. See below for an exception for students who can write faster than is needed to answer 40 problems in a minute.

What about students who can’t write the answers to 40 problems per minute?
This is a great question. We are very very impressed and glad you asked!
For less than fluent writers their goal is to write as many answers as they can write in one minute. See the information about the Writing Speed Test for details of how their goal would be adjusted down from 40 problems per minute. Their goal will be to answer as fast as their little fingers can write! We do not want children to be hesitant, or have to stop to figure out math facts. We want them automatic, with as little thought required as possible. We definitely do not want them counting on their fingers. Allow us to repeat ourselves here…NO FINGER COUNTING!

H—What has to be ready for me to start?

What has to be ready for me to start?
You need to have a folder for every student. On the front of the folder you’ll have stapled the Rocket Chart—that’s how you’ll keep track of what lettered set each student is practicing. On the inside left you’ll have stapled their Goal Sheet—so you know how many problems they have to answer in one minute to pass. And on the inside right you’ll have the Individual Student Graph for progress monitoring—so you know if they are getting better at answering math facts in that operation. In each child’s folder you’ll have the Writing Speed Test, ready for them to take. If you choose to use it, you will also have the Placement Probes—which are found at the start of each operation (Remember, if you just can’t wait to find out how that works, you can skip ahead to the section entitled, “Why would I want to give the Placement Probes?”).

Stop and Make Folders Now

Now the papers are ready, but you are not ready—because you haven’t read the rest of the directions thoroughly. Just take a moment here to recognize how much fun you have had reading these directions up to this point. Imagine what fun lies ahead! Hmm…You still need to learn about what you need to do and more importantly why you need to do it.

The students aren’t ready because they need to learn how to participate in the program. They need to learn how to work as partners, how to practice the math facts with a partner and how to give corrective feedback to their partner. Just as important: the children need to learn why cheating isn’t smart and why and how they will want to practice at home too. And we want you to know how to do all this in a very smart way. (So, if you were hoping you were almost done reading these directions, you’re not. You may want to go get a fresh cup of coffee or a sandwich. We’ve got a ways to go!)

I—Why do I have to give a Writing Speed Test? and How do I give it?

Why do I have to give a Writing Speed Test?

I have found that many children are not able to write the answers to 40 problems in one minute. They can orally say the answers to that many problems, but they can’t write that fast. In grades one and two it may be nothing more than an “inexperienced little hands” problem. In other grades handwriting speed is dependent on other variables. When students learn their facts, but cannot pass a test, due to slow writing, I see much weeping, gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair. (And that’s just the teacher.) Suffice it to say, it’s not a pretty sight. So you want to establish goals for each student that is no faster than the student can write. To do that you have to find out how fast each student can write. That’s why you have to give the Writing Speed Test.

How do I give the Writing Speed Test?

Writing Speed TestYou might want to find a copy of the Writing Speed Test to look at while reading this section. Click the link or it is also located in the filing cabinet in the Forms and Information Drawer in the folder “Forms for every student.” Go ahead, find it and print it out. I’ll wait for you. (I am drumming my fingers on my desk, but patiently.) Ready? OK.

The children are going to write in each box the number they see up in the corner of the box. They look at the number and write it. That’s just how fast they should be with the math facts — just look at the fact and write the answer without hesitation. However many boxes they can write the numbers for in one minute determines the number of problems they can be expected to write the answers for in one minute. This sets their goal. Whew! That was hard to write! We are OK. Keep reading.

When you give the test, make sure all students are situated with their papers out, names on them and their pencil at the ready. Tell students to hold their pencil up (yes, in the air!) when they are ready. (This is a really cool technique to use for all timings. If students are holding their pencils at the ready and in the air, nobody can be cheating by starting early. Also, in this way you can look out over the masses and easily tell when everyone is set and ready to go.) The directions for the Writing Speed Test are on the test sheet. Read these aloud. Do not allow any students to start ahead of time as this will invalidate their score. Have the students write in the boxes as fast as they can for one minute. Then they can put the tests back into their folders, and turn in their folders. You will be taking the information from the test and putting it onto the Goal Sheet.

J—What do I do with the Goal Sheet?

What do I do with the Goal Sheet?

If you recall from the section “What has to be ready for me to start?” we mentioned stapling a Goal Sheet inside each child’s folder (on the left). We also mentioned that you can find that Goal Sheet at the end of these directions. Don’t remember that? It’s OK, we just told you again. Take a peek at a Goal Sheet while we explain its purpose and use. If you don’t already have copies of the Goal Sheet stapled into each kid’s folder—stop right now and do that. Now? Yes, now!

Stop and Make the Folders Now

It would be really great if we didn’t have to say that again!

What is the purpose of the Goal Sheet? Its purpose is to keep track of each child’s goal for passing the One-Minute Daily Test. Their goal is to write the answers to math facts as fast as they can — without any hesitation. The number of numerals they can write in one minute is the upper limit on their performance—so we set that as the goal. The Goal Sheet also tells you what the goal is for each student for two other purposes, (1) the Placement Probes and (2) the annual goals, but we’ll talk about those later. Just don’t lose those Goal Sheets.

Once you have their Writing Speed Test in hand, you can see how many boxes they filled in in one minute. Circle that entire row. The second column from the right labeled “One-Minute Daily Test” gives you their goal for the One-Minute Daily Test. (You may have noticed that it is the same as the number of boxes filled. Don’t tell anyone, as we would like this to appear as complicated, esoteric, and sophisticated as possible.) Please write that on the line for “One-Minute Daily Test”—the line located at the bottom of the Goal Sheet. Then each day, when students take the “One-Minute Daily Test,” as long they meet or beat their goal, they pass that set. Some kids will have a lower goal than others, but each child passes when he/
she meets or beats their individualized goal. Cool, huh? We think so, too.