The standards, whether the CCSSM or the TEKS in Texas, definitively state that students should develop fluency with calculations, and that means automaticity with basic facts. Knowing math facts is similar to knowing sight words–it frees up the mind to solve real math problems. If a child has to struggle to solve 8 + 3, they have no mental energy (or desire) left to grapple with the types of problems that will increase their capacity as a mathematician. The difference is the approach we now take to teaching basic facts. Traditionally, the emphasis has been on memorization and speed, much to the detriment of countless students. For a great read on the problems with memorization, check out Jo Boaler‘s Fluency Without Fear.
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So the shift has been away from rote memorization of math facts and toward a strategy-based approach for learning math facts. There’s a big difference between memorizing and understanding. Sure, we want kiddos to have automaticity with their facts, but we want that fluency to be rooted in number sense–an understanding of how numbers are related. A great resource for strategy-based fact instruction is Mastering the Basic Math Facts in Addition and Subtraction: Strategies, Activities, and Interventions to Move Students Beyond Memorization. There’s one for multiplication and division facts, too.
To develop automaticity, students also need to engage in meaningful practice. Here are some suggestions for practice games and activities:
- Provide concrete or pictorial support. The ability to create mental images of numbers and facts helps students make sense of numbers. A student who “guesses” that 7 x 9 might be a number in the 30s clearly does not have a mental image of 7 x 9. Tasks that either use pictures to represent facts or have students draw representations for facts help them develop the ability to form mental images.
- Focus on strategies, not facts. When learning addition facts, strategies like Make a 10 and Using Doubles are very powerful. With multiplication, students learn that facts are related, for example by doubling. A game focusing on the 2s, 4s, and 8s highlights that doubling relationship.
- Spotlight a specific number. In Kinder and 1st, students need lots of practice composing and decomposing the numbers to ten. Because of its importance in our number system, special emphasis should be given to making ten. Use a fun skip-counting game to practice all the multiples of a given factor.
- Add a twist of strategy. Let’s face it, who doesn’t like a game of tic-tac-toe? The strategy that’s involved makes it almost addictive. Anytime you can incorporate a little strategy into a fact practice game, you’re golden. And speaking of tic-tac-toe, I’ve created a little freebie for Making 10 (addition) and Making 24 (multiplication), and now it has both print and digital versions! Click here to grab yours!
I’d love for you to share your comments about how you work with your students to develop automaticity with facts!