Monday, November 28, 2011

Making Math Facts Stick

Getting students to learn their math facts can be a very trying process.  Teachers and parents are always looking for ways to help students learn their facts.  To me, this has become even more problematic with elementary math curriculums becoming more and more problem based.  With the newer curriculums students learn by problem solving and making their own connections.  This is a huge leap from the days when I was in school and everyone was told how to do math problems and if you "got it" great and if not too bad.  Students are encouraged to create their own paths to problem solving and create their own connections.  This approach has help many student make sense of math, but their are still students who need strategies that make sense to them and that they can apply to other problems.

I have had the opportunity to work with Nancy Nutting on numerous occasions.  She developed a system of introducing and instructing math facts so that students have strategies that apply throughout math fact acquisition.  I have seen the effectiveness of this system in two different school districts.  I will briefly outline the system, and if anyone is interested I can direct you to Nancy!!

Addition facts are taught off of students learning the "Doubles".  1+1, 2+2, 3+3, etc.  This is the only group that needs to be memorized.  Addition facts are introduced in this order:

  • Doubles
  • Doubles +1
  • Doubles +2
  • Adding 0 and 1
  • Adding 9 and 10
  • Using What You Know
We no longer just give a student a sheet with 100 addition problems, or work on adding 1, then 2, then 3, then 4, etc.  Students are able to build off prior knowledge (the previous strategy) to gain the fact acquisition. To put it in simple terms we are not throwing a bunch of random math problems at students and asking them to make connections.  We present the math facts in a connected way to start with!!.

Multiplication facts are taught in different order that what is traditionally done in most curriculums.  We introduce 2's, 5's, and 10's since most students learn to count by these numbers in earlier grades - remember multiplication is really skip counting.  We then move to 0's and 1's.  These two can present problems because they are very different than when adding 0 or 1.  We then move to 9's (because there are a couple of quick "tricks" students can learn).  Square numbers come next.  The last ones we introduce are 3's and 4's, and then the 6's, 7's, and 8's (that haven't been covered in one of the previous strategies).

I should talk about timed math test real quick - they do more harm than good - especially the 5 minute ones with a hundred math facts.  In most students it creates anxiety and very few students are motivated by this.  We do our assessments in 30 sec snippets.  Students take a quick 10 question assessment on a certain strategy - we allow 3 seconds on each problem thus the 30 seconds.  This gives us a good idea of where a student is in terms of their fact recall, but does not take a lot of time.  If student struggles writing we allow them to verbally give the facts, but again we use the 10 problems in 30 seconds.

We have a bunch of different games the students play to get direct practice - they don't even know they are gaining accuracy and speed.  We have buddy classrooms that work with each other a lot.  There are also a couple of other activities that allow for differentiation.  Your whole class can all be working on a different strategy on the same sheet!! 

I really like how this has helped our students, it connects and gives teachers a way to help with direction instruction if needed - if you are not teaching math facts this way you should reconsider.  

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