By the time kids reach the eighth grade, they should be able to recall basic addition, subtraction and multiplication with automaticity and ease. For students in low-income communities and especially students with learning exceptionalities, this isn’t always the case. About 20% of my students have strong math fluency, and for the rest? If you don’t have it by the eighth grade, the chances of being exposed to practice and review in your math classes are pretty slim. And what implications does that have on our students? It’s an essential skillset for all other mathematical concepts, and probably the most applicable skill we use in our everyday lives. Our students cannot afford to move through grades without spending a lot of time and effort on math fluency. I put together a four of my favorite strategies that I’ve used and have seen other teachers use to meet this dire need.
#1: REFLEXMATH.COM– My school bought a subscription to this online program (I don’t know the cost, but it’s SO GREAT!). Basically, students have an individual login that opens them up to a world of interactive, leveled games where they can access new activities the more they play. Each student is able to create a personalized avatar, earn coins to shop at the store, and much more. And the best part? Teachers have a special login where they can monitor site activity, and view which facts students have mastered. Since students can do this anywhere they have a computer with internet access, offering it as extra credit or as a daily homework assignment (i.e. students play 20 minutes every night) is totally plausible and doesn’t take up too much class time. Kudos for getting this started at our school, Miss Lai!
#2: The Sixty Second Sweep– My great friend, Ms. Zhu, showed me this. Hence the title, it only takes 60 seconds, and it allows students to practice their multiplication fluency backwards and forward. Instead of thinking of their multiplication tables as 2 times 3, they must look at the number ’36’ and be able to determine which two numbers will multiply to give them that answer. This challenges students to know their fact families, and you will be SO thankful when you start your fractions unit (simplifying=cake!). Since this activity is timed, students are super engaged and are motivated by the competition. I give my students an incentive to keep trying– whoever can complete the honeycomb in 60 seconds gets any lunch of their choice on Ms. Saina (yes, I will drive down to the taqueria for a supreme burrito).
#3: Ball Toss– This activity is SO.MUCH.FUN. for the kids. Pick up a large air ball (beach balls work great), take out a sharpie and write facts ALL over the ball. They can be addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, or anything you want them to remember! Setting explicit behavior expectations is essential for this activity as it can get pretty wild.
The Rules: Toss the ball lightly and slowly to your partner. When you catch the ball, find the problem that is closest to your right thumb. Say the entire problem and the answer aloud. Your partner should verify your answer because any problem you miss is a point for the other person (as long as they catch it!).
Challenge students by picking up the speed of the toss, kind of like Hot Potatoe!
#4: My last strategy is the good ol’ FLASHCARDS. Never underestimate the power of flashcards. I found multiplication/division flashcards in the dollar section of Target at the beginning of the year (yes, I cleared out the section). I gave a set to the student’s who needed some serious help with their facts. I told them to review them every day after they finish their other homework, and if you get parents on board, it really helps (this is super easy for Spanish speaking parents to help their kids). To stay on top of it, I’ll ask a student to learn one set a week (i.e. their 9’s tables), and verbally quiz them in the morning. Attach a reward/incentive to it, and you’ve got ’em! I have also used flashcards in stations, and as entrance tickets into class (students must solve the flashcard I show them before entering the classroom, easy to differentiate this too). I know that some flashcards will never make their way back to me, but that’s one dollar I’m willing to lose.
Please be advised that not all of these ideas come straight from my head. I’ve modified them to suit the needs of my kids, but definitely do not take full credit. During my initial Teach for America training, someone once told me, “Good teachers borrow, Great teachers STEAL”. While I am very much a strategy thief, I will try to give credit where I can.