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. It 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 know small bits (in eight counts) of the dance. They gradually learn more than 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?
Use Concrete Materials
Have your students represent their thinking with objects. Some examples of objects are a number line, tens frame, snap cubes – or even Cheese-its!
Using concrete objects is an essential step because it allows students to create models for the math equation. By using a tangible representation, the operation of each equation becomes comprehensible. 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.
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 next step.
Model with Pictures
Using pictures shouldn’t take too long. Use something simple like a circle or tally mark. You may also want to consider using dabbers to accommodate all children.
When using drawings, consider creating a story to go along with it. Using stories will help students understand the meaning of the operation.
Students can use pictures for as long as they need before they’re able to memorize facts. Using drawings doesn’t mean they are not fluent. If they can use illustrations with ease to determine an accurate solution, then they are fluent!
Finally, you worked hard to model with concrete objects, create pictures, and talk 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 create a movie in their minds or give them more opportunities to experiment with concrete objects and illustrations.
It’s essential for students to master basic math facts because it frees up problem-solving. Think about it; if a student has a word problem that adds a two-digit number (with regrouping), then he will need to know at least three basic math facts. He also needs to understand place value, how to interpret the word problem, etc.
Once your students can 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.
Allow students to practice math facts daily. Practice time should be no more than 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!