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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Fact Smart: Fourth Grade Learning Goal

Learning your math facts remains a fourth grade staple--all students are expected to be facile with math facts up to 12 in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  There's a bit of a debate related to "how facile" and the "speed of knowing" each fact, but nevertheless quick recall remains a goal--and I believe that 50 facts in 3 minutes (some say 100 in 3) is a formidable achievement.  One reason I continue to embrace this goal is that quick recall of facts helps students to gain and build higher level mathematical thinking and problem solving skills because they are not delayed by trying to remember a fact.

Children come to fourth grade representing those who know few facts to those who know all or almost all with quick recall.  How does a teacher get everyone to meet the goal, and provide enrichment for those who have already met it?

I begin the year with a parallel effort with regard to fact mastery.  This year I'll be thinking of Hattie's research in Visible Learning for Teachers as I implement greater use of regular assessments, peer tutoring, collaborative work, short-term, explicit goal setting, specific results criteria and dialogic discussion about meeting this goal. 

The parallel effort includes lessons that focus on number theory and activities that center on fact practice and mastery.  Both theory and practice lessons will begin with initial assessments so that both students and teachers know explicitly what students know.  

Number Theory
Number theory lessons will include lessons in which we work as a class to explore numbers. We'll build number models, look at the differences between primes and composities, evens and odds, one-digit, two-digit, three-digit and more--we'll essentially dissect, analyze and "play" with numbers in many ways so that we understand numbers well and can begin to make predictions about data and equations just by looking at the numbers involved.

Fact Skill and Practice
The fact practice lessons will begin with a collective discussion about the many ways one is able to learn math facts. We'll list the ways; we'll organize the materials and we'll create a menu that children can refer to during math practice time.  We'll also talk about goal setting and the ways one can break down this math facts goal into manageable steps--I'll use the "learning steps" poster to show that learning is a series of steps that brings one closer and closer to a specific goal, and that we never stop learning--instead we just start on a new goal and continue to climb the "learning steps."

After our collective discussions about the learning process, goal setting and the many ways one learns facts, students will begin creating their own learning charts for fact practice.  The charts will include their current fact rate/knowledge in each operational area: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. We will use "That Quiz" online tests to get a baseline for each area and to check students' progress.  The charts will also include goal setting for a first goal.  I will use the order on the computation ladders I created based on research a few years ago for students' goal setting.  I will coach those who have completed the fact tasks on an algebra ladder which reinforces fact facility while also teaching students how to solve algebraic equations with increasing difficulty--a great next step.

Fact facility will be a first objective in the new school year.  I will use this area of the curriculum to teach content skill and concept as well as the disposition, routines and efforts that characterize successful learners.  I will utilize a similar process to teach keyboarding skill at the start of the year.  By starting the year with two curriculum goals that are well within the reach of the fourth grade students' understanding and management, it is my goal that students both learn the content and strengthen their awareness and knowledge of how to be successful learners too.  

I invite you to join me on this start of the year facts unit plan.  Please let me know if you have any ideas to add or thoughts to consider as I begin to make individual goal sheets and set up the fact library of manipulatives, online games/practice sites and other tools for fact mastery.  Thanks for your support.