In 2016 I wrote a blog post similar to this: How to Teach a Child Math Facts. However, because I have the privilege of consulting with parents weekly–even daily– and addressing fact mastery strategies, I have learned more. I want to share this additional information I have acquired during time spent in the trenches with you, the parent.
Fact mastery is a hot topic with parents of students of all ages. If nothing else, after reading this post I hope you remember two things: 1) Regardless of your student’s age, you are not alone, and 2) We do have solutions.
Is Fact Mastery Really Necessary?
Often I am asked whether fact mastery is really necessary. To be honest, I have no doubt there are adult mathematicians out there who do not know all of their math facts and may even need to count on their fingers. However, when consulting day to day, I have talked to many parents who admit that they still count on their fingers. They are often even more committed to finding a better way for their students because they tell me “I have always struggled in math because of it.”
I like the way Mary from our customer service team says it:
Fact mastery will give the student confidence. When they are solving complex problems they do not have to stop to think what is 5 + 6 or 7 x 9. When they must stop and think about these facts, it makes them think “If I can’t do something simple, how can I do something like Algebra?
So yes, while your student might become confident in math and be set up for success in upper level concepts without having facts mastered, chances are that it will affect their ability to efficiently process more complex concepts. It is possible that you would be sending an otherwise successful future math student to try to master higher level concepts with a math deficiency.
Let’s Inventory What You’ve Likely Tried
For some students flash cards will work. If you are making progress using flashcards I recommend that you read this blog post written by Gretchen to even find more success.
2) Speed Drills
Speed drills can be an effective tool for some. However, if you find your student panics or seems to forget everything you thought they knew once you start drilling, the drilling activity may need to either cease or be modified.
It is rare that speed drills teach. However, they can be a tool that helps a student become faster with their fact recall. It is recommended that you drill only math facts the student already knows. As an adult, I can’t think of any new information I have learned by just going faster. The Math-U-See website offers a worksheet generator to help with this. You will find addition/subtraction drills under Alpha, multiplication drills under Gamma, and division drills under Delta.
3) Math Games
Games are another commonly used tool that can result in supplementing success. Amanda has some great ideas in her blog post.
Breaking the Habit
When a student has been finding the answer by finger counting for several years, the key is to assist them in breaking the habit. For them the only place to look for the answer is on their fingers. When instructed to stop counting and memorize they are being asked to develop a new tool to help them see the answer. The Math-U-See curriculum focuses on giving them effective and alternative strategies which intentionally pave the path to memorization so they can store the needed information in their long-term visual memory.
The key to no longer needing to count to add is subitizing. Subitizing is the ability to see a small group of objects and know the amount without counting each singular object. A common example of this is dice. By regularly playing games involving dice we are able to roll a 4 or a 5 and, without counting, quickly know the numbers that are represented. Another example of subitizing would be Legos. If your student often builds with Legos you will notice while they do not count the knobs, they are able to quickly fill in spaces with the correct block or two without counting.
Math Manipulatives: The Secret Sauce
With the Math-U-See program, the blocks are more than just an option: they are an integral part of the mathematical learning process. Through intentional use they become a tool not only for understanding but to be able to see facts and remember concepts. The blocks and the strategies combined provide the important bridge to committing math facts and other formulas into long-term visual memory.
Intentional Order of Mastery
The order in which math facts are presented is another key to escalating fact success. Once the zeros, ones and twos are memorized along with the Commutative property, the student is ready to find success with eights and nines, because of the way the Math-U-See program connects them to the mastered ones and twos. Once the eights and nines are mastered, there are only a few addition facts that remain. Taking the time to solidify the addition facts along with what makes ten and the introduction of algebraic thinking with solving for the unknown, the student will find a higher level of success when they spend the second half of Alpha mastering subtraction.
Here at Demme Learning we get excited when supporting parents, especially those with older students who have been striving for success and need the tool of fact mastery to achieve that success.
So let’s take first things first. It is important to pause and evaluate exactly which of the addition and subtraction facts your student knows without counting or long pauses. With that clarity it is easier to put together a plan which will replace the need to count with a strategy intentionally designed to strengthen your student’s fact mastery in the most time and cost effective way.
Due to knowledge of the materials and years of learning from the parents we talk to, we have designed support strategies which we are privileged to share with you to assist you in building a plan to fit you and your student’s specific learning needs.