As the math education pendulum swings, facts mastery finds itself all over the place from programs that put little to no emphasis on number facts proficiency to programs that make mastery the focus to the exclusion of so many other math concepts, skills and knowledge.
From my study, I have learned that most children are capable of math fact mastery, and for many to most children, that mastery simply takes lots of practice. I've also learned that facts mastery is one stepping stone to math ease, comprehension and growth.
So with my smart goal in mind, how have I worked so far to master the goal and how will I continue to work with regard to this endeavor?
So far, students have engaged in the following activities:
- Frequent facts homework utilizing paper/pencil and online programs such as That Quiz, Sum Dog, Xtra Math and others.
- Weekly fact tests mainly using That Quiz (a terrific online math tool that allows you to create tests, assess student skills and collect scores).
- Math problem solving that involves facts.
- Enrichment exercises that include facts practice and variables.
- Lots of communication to and from family members and specialist teachers.
Since much of our future math study depends on facility with multiplication, and because most students have some mastery over addition and subtraction facts, starting tomorrow we'll combine our class efforts to bring everyone's mastery with multiplication facts forward. We'll do this by creating a class goal. The class goal will be for the entire class to master 100 facts each in 125 minutes combined total (or less!)--that's 5 minutes X 25 students. To reach that goal, I've paired students. I've placed facile facts students who have demonstrated keen sensitivity and teaching skill with students who struggle. I've placed similar ability students with other similar ability students who are close to making the goal. Tomorrow the students and I will brainstorm a number of ways that we can work together and as teams to reach our goal. I'll make a giant gauge to monitor our progress, and this coming Friday all students will take the 100's facts tests to see how long our combined time is, and how much time we have to erase to make our goal. Then next week we'll re-strategize and work each day and for homework to reach our goal.
Students who struggle with processing may end up reaching times that are a bit more than the five-minute goal, but their times will be balanced by those students who are very quick and able to reach the goal in under 3 minutes.
To foster greater excitement and motivation, we'll come up with some kind of celebration or final event to show off our skill, or even better maybe we'll donate our new knowledge and skill to helping a third grade class with a similar challenge. I'll see what the students have in mind.
I currently keep track of their skills with a chart like this:
Have you achieved the goal of 75% or better facts facility with your elementary school students? If so, what tools and strategies have helped you with this process? How have you enlisted the support of specialist teachers, classmates and family members? What other advice do you have to offer?
Sometimes, with so many sophisticated and complex curriculum standards and goals, we don't make the time to shore up foundation skills and abilities in engaging, fruitful ways. The job of teaching today, and probably for all time, has been a balancing act of skills, concepts and knowledge with a focus on student engagement, confidence and growth. Facts facility and mastery is one piece of this amazing learning puzzle.