First let’s talk about what math fact fluency is and is not. Fluency is the ability to recall the answers to basic math facts automatically and without hesitation. This does not mean we start teaching memorization right from the beginning. There are building blocks that we must do before we get to memorization.
Let’s consider the way a dancer learns a new dance. First, the dancer watches the piece to see what they will be learning. Then, they learn small bits (in eight counts) of the dance. They gradually learn more eight counts, until they finally put the entire routine together. Through repetition and practice, they become fluent in the dance, that they don’t even have to think about it.
Teaching math fact fluency should be similar in that it should be a gradual release. So, how do we start teaching our students math facts?
Start with pictures!
Using visual representation is beneficial for introducing math concepts because they support understanding and remembering. These verbs are the lowest on the depth of knowledge (DOK) scale. This means that it’s easier to understand.
When using drawings, consider creating something that is relevant to your students’ life so that they may better understand the picture.
Using pictures shouldn’t take too long. You may only need to do this for the first part of the lesson. If your students have learning disabilities or deficits, then you may want to extend this until they show understanding of the picture and what it represents.
Transition to concrete materials!
Now that your students have a basic understanding of the pictures, they will be ready to represent their thinking with objects. Now, you can easily transition to concrete materials. This could be objects like a number line, tens frame, snap cubes – or even Cheese-its!
This is an important step because it allows students to create their own models for the math equation. It also provides a common language amongst the classroom.
By asking your students to explain their model and share their thinking, you’re taking learning to the next level – which of course is a DOK 2.
Using concrete models is a great way to support abstract thinking. Continue using math manipulatives until your students get quicker and more accurate. Once the accuracy and speed are there, you’re ready for the last step.
Finally, you worked hard creating pictures, using concrete objects, and talking a lot about the math facts. Now you’re ready to graduate your students to abstract thinking.
Some students may have trouble with this at first, but you can support them by relating their thinking to the objects they were using. If you notice your students are having trouble, you can help them by having them create a movie in their mind or giving them more opportunities to experiment with concrete objects.
It’s important for students to master basic math facts because it frees up problem solving. Think about it, if a student has a word problem where it adds a two-digit number (with regrouping), then he will need to know at least three basic math facts. He also needs to know place value, how to interpret the word problem, etc.
Once your students are able to reason and quantify their math facts with ease and accuracy, maintain their knowledge with consistent math fact practice. I use these holiday math games to switch it up and keep them engaged.
Give students the opportunity to practice math facts daily. This should be 10% of your math class. If you’re wondering about your math schedule, be sure to check out How I Schedule My Math Block to learn more about that.
Taking the necessary steps to make sure that your students truly understand the math they are doing is setting them up for success for the rest of their lives.
What math activities do you use to encourage math fact fluency? Let me know in the comments!