Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Math Fact Mastery and the Common Core

Free Mastering Math Facts Webinar

Should upper elementary students be expected to memorize math facts? The Common Core asks for us to move beyond surface-level instruction and teach for deep understanding, so making kids learn math facts by heart might seem to be an outdated practice. But is it?

According to research conducted by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel in 2008, it's important for "students to achieve automaticity of basic skills ... which frees up working memory for more complex aspects of problem solving.” In other words, if students don't know math facts fluently, they waste valuable brain power trying to figure them out - brain power they should be applying to complex problems. Math fact mastery is essential!

If you ask any 4th or 5th grade teacher, one of their biggest frustrations is working with students who don't know the times tables. As a result, these students to struggle with other math concepts all year long. It's clear that students DO need to memorize math facts, but luckily we don't have to use "drill and kill" methods to accomplish the goal. Instead, we can use hands-on strategies to help students understand multiplication on a conceptual level, and then provide regular practice and a variety of engaging activities to help them develop fluency.

Common Core Connections
Last night I presented a free webinar called "Mastering Multiplication Facts - Take 2." If you missed it, you can find the recording on my Multiplication page on Teaching Resources. The presentation was an updated version of a popular webinar that I did a few years ago, and one important part that I updated was to show how these strategies are aligned with the Common Core every step of the way. Even though multiplication facts are typically taught in 3rd grade, it becomes the job of 4th and 5th grade teachers to ensure that students learn those facts fluently. I shared several CCSS aligned, step-by-step strategies for helping students grasp the meaning behind the math facts, as well as many games to help them develop fluency.

Fluency Leads to Math Success
During the webinar, I shared a method I developed when teaching 5th grade called the Mastering Math Facts system. The variation I used involved having students earn scoops of ice cream on a cone as they worked toward a class goal, but you could use other motivational reward systems, too. I used my math fact mastery system for over 10 years, and every year ALL of my students learned the times tables fluently! It did take persistence and dedication, but I spent time on this because knew that my efforts would have a lasting impact on my students' success in mathematics. In fact, for the last few years I was in the classroom, every single student passed the state math test at the end of the year, and about half of them scored Level 4's, the highest level possible. Because all of my students mastered those math facts, they were able to tackle complex problems with confidence, enjoying the challenge of problem solving rather than being frustrated in math.

It might seem silly to be this passionate about a topic like memorizing math facts, but I've seen how it can impact students when they are frustrated in math on a daily basis. I've also seen, time and time again, how students gain confidence when they finally overcome that math fact monster! Instead of continuing to be discouraged, they become excited about math!

Because this topic is so important to me, I wrote a book about it called Mastering Math Facts Multiplication and Division: Aligned with the Common Core. The webinar was a natural outgrowth from the book project because it allowed me share the strategies and tell the story in my own words. I hope you enjoy it! You can find the webinar in various formats on the Multiplication page where you'll also find other free resources on this topic.


  1. I just finished watching the webinar. It was tremendously helpful. I have both versions of your book, but there is just something about listening to you explain it that drives it home. When I watch your videos, I always feel blessed to be learning from a such a master teacher. It pumps me up and gets me so excited for the upcoming year. Your generosity to teachers is astounding! Thank you for ALL you do for teachers. I know you have touched the lives of thousands of teachers and students. You are a blessing to the education community! I can't wait for the next webinar:)

    1. Thanks so much, Selina! I was so touched by what you wrote here. I just don't even know what to say!


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