How to Teach a Child Math Facts
You can teach math facts to your child; learn some of our strategies in this blog post.
Let’s say you and a friend are each making a cake. You both know how to make it and understand the recipe. However, your friend gets to use the fancy mixer which sits on the counter, while you use that old hand beater that is hard to crank. You both have the possibility of ending up with a yummy cake; however, one of you experiences more frustration along the way. In fact, if you knew that was the only tool you were ever going to be able to use, you might find cake-making a lot less interesting or even something you avoid.
The math student who does not have the tool of knowing math facts without counting or long pauses is likely to lose interest as well.
The Struggle with Math Facts
If you are a parent who is feeling the pain of watching your child struggle in math, knowing the problem might be that they have not memorized single-digit math facts, you are not alone. In my 25 years of supporting parents, with at least one parent with this exact issue each day.
For some, flash cards, drill sheets, promises, and incentives seem to work. The results reveal, however, that many of the learned math facts slip away from short-term memory after a break from school.
Flash card abuse is a problem for me as I try to encourage my children’s math fact memorization: “I just showed you this one two minutes ago!” are words I wish had never slipped from my mouth; I think that may be why I am so passionate about this subject.
Flash cards and drill sheets do not teach, and for most students. the sheer willpower needed to get those facts into rote memory will not make them stick.
While timed drill sheets are another method that might work for some, for others this creates anxiety attacks. Think about it; what if you as an adult wanted to learn something and the instructor said, “Just do it faster, and I will time you”?
Teach Math Facts with F.I.G.
You might be thinking this is all fine and good for an elementary student, but what about the fifth grade student or higher? It’s the same effective plan which we call F.I.G. (fill in the gap).
A few of the basic F.I.G. ideas are:
• Before starting actual fact practice, make sure the student has mastered block to integer correlation. Making the instant connection between the block and the integer while building facts will assist in escalating the memorization process.
• Master the facts in a sequential order that builds. For example in Alpha the 9’s and 8’s are mastered directly after 1’s, 2’s, commutative property and solving for the unknown as all of those concepts are connected and build on each other.
• Hang in there with the Build, Write and Say method keeping session’s brief, maximizing attention span.
• Celebrate both knowing and not knowing the fact. “Yeah! We know we don’t know that one!” I have found when the student begins to acknowledge this rather than hide the fact they don’t know progress escalates.
Many years ago one of my customers called regarding a 16-year-old who needed to go back to Alpha. He didn’t know single-digit addition and subtraction facts, which consequently was causing tremendous angst in math. Now THAT is a hard conversation to have!
Years later I receive a call from the mother of this young man.
She proceeded to tell me how he mastered his facts in just a few months using the strategy we discussed along with the Alpha level. Additionally, over the next few years he reviewed several other lower levels. Ultimately, he attended college on schedule, proudly heading straight into college math. She called wanting to refer to me to a friend in a similar situation for another one of those hard conversations. In retrospect, I don’t want to think what would have happened had they not had the courage and fortitude to know what they needed and did what was required to get there. How sad that would have been for her son to continue considering himself a failure in math because he did not have the basic tools! Opportunities like this to make little differences in big ways keep the sales and customer service teams at Math-U-See showing up for work and putting on the headset each day.