July 17, 2013
Math Fact Mastery and the Common Core
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instruction and teach for deep understanding, so making kids learn math facts by heart might seem to be an outdated practice.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.
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.
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.
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.