Flashcards are the worst for practicing fact fluency. I’m just going to say it. They are JUST the worst. Actually maybe timed tests are the worst, but we will tackle that another day. Talk about taking all the joy and fun out of mathematics. They only work for students who can memorize, and while you might be thinking “Hey! They worked great for me!” You were probably one of the lucky ones. Even if they DO work for SOME kids, is that the best way to practice math facts?
My favorite, favorite, favorite thing is to have students play with multiplication first. Multiplication fact practice doesn’t have to be devoid of all fun. You start out by purchasing really great things that are high interest for children, and then find a way to help them put them into groups. We use fake eggs and egg cartons, pop its to show rows with pressed in dots, penguins on icebergs and the fan favorite among every student I’ve ever done this with…is the mini shopping carts with groceries.
As long as the items can be put into groups, they can represent multiplication. Now in this case you can actually pair flashcards with these items. Pick a flashcard, then build it. This will help your students make some meaning out of the number sentences. The more students build their multiplication facts, the faster they learn the meaning of multiplication conceptually. The faster they learn the conceptual part, the easier time they have visualizing multiplication. The easier time they can visualize multiplication facts, the faster they can learn strategies for skip counting or doubling groups. It snowballs quite quickly! I’m a huge proponent of games and activities like this vs. time tests and flashcards. This does a lot of great things for students:
- It reduces anxiety big time and adds in play, which research shows allow you to be a better problem solver.
- Students start to look for shortcuts (our brains are wired this way), and they will begin to skip count rather than count by ones to find the total.
- It normalizes the use of tools for ALL students.
- Eventually these items won’t be needed, as they will eventually become tired of building the items and will come up with other ways to solve multiplication facts.
This is an awesome thing to work on at your teacher table, or to have as an ongoing station for students to play around with during independent work time in your math workshop.