How many times have you looked at students during math and thought to yourself, “Why don’t they know these math facts yet?” It can be so frustrating when we spend SO much of our time practicing math facts, only for students not to retain them.
Are you guilty of using math fact flashcards, timed tests, or online programs like XtraMath? I know I am! I’ll tell you I’ve tried ALL the things and they STILL couldn’t seem to build fluency with those facts. So what do you do when you feel you’ve tried everything and nothing works? You shift your mindset!
Read on to learn how I finally got my students to build that automaticity with their math facts and take some strategies that you can implement in your classroom ASAP!
Many of us educators learned in school that students need a lot of exposure to math facts in order to become fluent. However, we can also see in our classrooms that that just isn’t the case for most students. No amount of timed tests or flashcards can make students retain facts if they don’t have the strategies and foundation of numbers they need to become fluent with math facts. Exposure isn’t the problem, it’s the deeper understanding.
This is where the mindshift comes in. A few years back I had a shift in my teaching practice to implement more student voice and choice in our classroom. The shift focused more on students’ needs first, rather than all my “best practices”. It opened up my eyes to how incredibly powerful it was for them and how impactful it became to retain information. When it came to our math fact fluency, we spent A LOT more time practicing addition and subtraction through a variety of strategies and talking through it. That may sound simple but it makes a HUGE difference.
So more student voice and more student choice, coupled with those best practices, will help all of your students really build that math fact fluency. Now let’s get into those best practices that are NOT timed tests or flash cards!
For me, best practices are rooted in research so I’ve dedicated A LOT of time over many years doing research so YOU don’t have to! Math Fact Fluency by Jennifer Bay-Williams and Gina Kling was a read that was a game changer for me. If you haven’t read this book, I would highly recommend it. The authors present really solid research about how students learn and retain fluency and what that actually means.
When it comes to thinking about math fact fluency best practices, I like to make an analogy. If we’re teaching reading, but our students are missing out on crucial pieces of letter recognition or sounds, are we going to force them to read entire words or sentences? Of course not. Instead, we will support the crucial pieces they still need to get to reading whole words. It’s the same concept with math facts. We MUST support them with the strategies and concrete learning before we head to the abstract part of solving equations fluently. But how do we help our little mathematicians develop the skills they need to become fluent with those essential math facts? It comes in phases.
We all want our students to be fluent in the facts for their own success and it is our job to get them there. In Math Fact Fluency, they mention that fluency develops in three phases.
- Phase One is counting, either using objects or mentally doing so.
- Phase Two is deriving, which means you’re using strategies to solve.
- Phase Three is mastering and it’s where students can efficiently produce answers.
So what does this tell us about developing fluency? This means our first focus needs to be on one to one correspondence and ensuring that students can accurately count. Which makes sequential sense when talking about adding and subtracting right? We can’t add if we can’t correctly count.
Once students are solid with counting and are ready to begin adding we move on. The next focus is introducing a variety of strategies to students to support them while they add and subtract. Take a look at this anchor chart below. This is developed with students and put on display as a bank of tools for students to access while adding. This supports students on their way to mastery. Learn more about using anchor charts to support students HERE.
Think about how you add best today. It may be different than I do it. Maybe you like to draw pictures, while I’m really fast with my fingers. Maybe my neighbor loves number lines, while their friend is super fast mentally. The goal is to provide as many strategies as we can to support students as they work through problems. The more practice they get with deriving, the closer they are to mastery and that’s when that fact fluency WILL come.
It’s also important to note that when you look at the standards, mastery looks really different. Kindergarten mastery is working with numbers through 5, first grade is through 10, and second grade is through 20. We can expose students to problems higher than that of course, but we should not expect mastery until they are developmentally ready for it. Now that we know how to appropriately move through the phases to build mastery, let’s get into how to practice!
Fun Math Fact Fluency Practice
The best way to help build fluency naturally is by having fun and letting them PLAY!
Did you know that scientists discovered that it takes about 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain, unless it is done in play. If students are playing, those 400 repetitions reduce to only 10 to 20! I can’t beat that so I’d rather join in on the fun! I’ve got all the fun ways to let your students play while building that fluency.
Bump is a fun competitive game that can not only boost math fact fluency, but it also teaches kids to have good sportsmanship. I call that a win-win!
Students start out with a board filled with spots, dice, and colored counters. Each kid gets about 10 counters of their color to try and fill the most spots on the board. If someone lands on a spot that is already taken by someone else, they can bump them off to take the spot while collecting their opponent’s pieces. Kids love bumping their friend’s colors off that they don’t even realize they’re learning! The first person to collect all their opponent’s pieces wins! Your students can play addition and subtraction BUMP with these HERE!
Using cards is a super low prep way to get in some fun addition and subtraction practice. Students can flip cards and race to solve their problems, or subitizing war!
Hands On Addition Mats
These mats are another really easy way to add a little engagement into their addition practice. Simply give students their addition mats, some manipulatives and let them make and practice as many problems as they can! I like to couple it with a recording sheet so they can write down all the equations they come up with and it gives them a little extra practice.
Spin and Add
If you’re noticing the trend, all this fun won’t add too much work on your part! These spin and add mats are PERFECT practice to help build that math fact fluency. A mat, some paper clips, and a pencil makes for a TON of fun. Students can add up to three addends with these mats and get all the practice they need!
Board games can be used to cover an array of skills. Laminate a bunch of boards to rotate out, add some dice, play pieces and you’ve got yourself loads of fun and skill practice! Grab this fun addition game FREE by subscribing below!
Grab this free resource now!
Students Who Still Struggle
You may be wondering, what do I do after all this and I still have students who struggle? What do we do with those kiddos who put in all the effort but still just can’t seem to get it? I am going to introduce you to one of my FAVORITE math tools that support ALL your little learners.
Three letters… CRA.
The CRA model breaks down math into three components: Concrete, Representations, and Abstract. This is where the power lies. All students start with concrete practice. We practice our (C)oncrete skills together for however long you need it, THEN we can introduce drawings, or (R)epresentations. Once students feel comfortable with that, we can begin to move to mental math, or (A)bstract concepts.
With all of these components, not only are students given choices on how to interact with the skill, it also is differentiating for their needs. This tends to be the problem with things like timed tests and fact fluency websites. They are pushing students to the abstract before they are ready when oftentimes they still need concrete support. Students likely haven’t had the time to develop the skills and tools they need to be successful. As a result of blowing past those crucial concrete and representational components, students tend to feel frustrated and resort to saying that they are just bad at math. Instead, we can have students feel successful with the CRA Model and help them learn to love math no matter what their needs are. Learn more about the CRA Model HERE!
The Power of Numberless
Are you little learners ready to rock word problems, but you’re worried they get tripped up by the words? Just like with fact fluency, understanding and solving math word problems takes being able to derive and comprehend. Just like the CRA Model helps support little learners where they are, using numberless word problems takes the burden of numbers away from students and allows them to focus on actual problem solving. You can learn all about the benefits and how to support students with numberless word problems HERE!
Fact fluency and mastery is tough but I promise with lots of practice, play, and strategies, it really does come naturally for students. Implement everything you learned reading here today to support students as they learn and be AMAZED at their mastery of the math facts.
Want to help your students become fluent mathematicians who surprised you with their amount of growth and mastery? Let them PLAY and practice with all of these engaging, hands-on math activities that your students will LOVE. I’ve created these to be differentiated to meet ALL their needs and this bundle will help you set yourself, and your students, up for success for the ENTIRE YEAR. Make math a time your students are sure to love and remember! The best part is that it’s a GROWING bundle so as I come up with more hands-on ideas, new resources will get added and you’ll be able to re-download them all for FREE! Check it out here!
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