A Team Approach to Learning Math Facts

(I wanted to title this post Ugh! %#$*% Math Facts, but somehow that didn’t seem very appropriate!) Sometimes I feel as though I am banging my head against the wall in an effort to help students learn math facts. There are many ways to practice in our room with a weekly set of facts (differentiated to their needs): building them, arrays, number lines, fact families, strategy work, drill, flashcards…

But we’ve hit a point in the school year where the students are less than happy to practice.  Whenever I mention math fact practice, I hear groans and moans about it.  IT IS DRIVING ME CRAZY. I started to look at their behaviors, noticing that when it was time to practice math facts, their efforts were half hearted as if they were on auto-pilot. I was having to track down who was practicing and who wasn’t.

On April 4th, I noticed only 7 people out of 25 students got 100% (10 out of 10) on their weekly math fact quick check.  I was completely at a loss because this number had been falling every week. My students know that I hold very high expectations, which means that somehow we were failing each other.

So I really started pushing them to practice at school, even twice a day at times for the next week.  I rewarded and recognized students who had completed their wok, and took photos of really cool strategies to put up on the interactive white board.

One week later right before we were about to start our quick check, I wrote this on the board:

Tips for Learning Math Facts

I explained that only seven people had gotten 100% last week.  I told the class that today I would keep track of the number of students who received 100%, and the difference between the two would be the number of extra minutes of recess given next Monday.  Here is what happened:

Tips for Learning Math Facts


We had a quick class chat after it was over. I offered this deal to them each week, April 4th was the baseline, the number of minutes of recess was up to them. I asked them if they could work together as a team to meet their goals. Here were the agreements that they came up with together after I told them it was a standing offer:

  1. Practice every morning when you get to school.
  2. Add 5 minutes of math fact practice at home.
  3. Practice when we finish our math assignment during math class
  4. Quiz each other on our math facts throughout the day

We will see how they do this coming Friday.  I am really interested in rewarding their hard work, and if it is a few extra minutes of recess, so be it!


Struggling to Learn Their Math Facts? One Way to Help

I know you have the student (or maybe you have many of them) that I am about to describe.

  1. They count on their fingers as their only strategy to recall their math facts.
  2. No matter how many ways they try to learn math facts, they come very slowly.
  3. They are at least a grade level behind in math fact fluency.
  4. They feel helpless, like they will never learn their facts.

There is this strange attitude with these types of students, as if they think they will never learn their facts. Their parents or siblings will say “I never really was very good at memorization, or learning my facts.” Those comments validate the student’s struggles and they feel like they, too, will never learn their facts.


They CAN and they WILL learn their facts. They just need some good tools.

First and foremost we must teach strategies. There are many ways that students can interact with their facts. They can use ten frames, number lines, fact families, pattern work etc.  Time tests alone do not teach students their math facts, and we cannot rely solely on flashcards/memorization.  We must first saturate their minds with a variety of ways to work with and look at their math facts. That is when memorization works, after they’ve seen the fact so many different ways they are sick of looking at it. This works for the majority of students as they learn their math facts.

But for some students with learning difficulties, it STILL won’t work. THEN, we must boost children up by giving them intentional memorization strategies.  The strategy I am referring to is called incremental rehearsal.

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It is adapted from a strategy that I learned over at Intervention Central.  Their strategy is amazing as well, but I found it was overwhelming for my struggling students to have so many facts involved (Instead of 10 but I’ve narrowed it down to 5 at a time).

There are a variety of ways I’ve used this strategy:

  1. Parent volunteers come in to work 1 to 1 with my most needy students.
  2. I’ve had peer tutors from upper grade levels come in to work with students in a math fact recess club. (Bring candy or treats, they’ll feel amazing to be a part of the “club”!)
  3. I’ve worked with small groups in intervention block with specific facts.
  4. If all else fails, I’ve sent home the facts to work on in baggies with the instruction page (see below).

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Some students truly are going to take longer to learn the facts…but they WILL learn them.  Especially if we never give up on them.

Thanks to Charity Preston for the link up!
Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

The Trouble With Learning Math Facts

The benchmarks for learning math facts in the Common Core State Standards are clear:

By the end of Kindergarten know all sums and differences to 5.
By the end of First Grade know all sums and differences to 10.
By the end of Second Grade know all sums and differences to 20.
By the end of Third Grade know all products and quotients to 100.

That is a tall order!

Last spring as I sat with a student who was painfully trying to learn his x8 and x9 facts, I had a bit of an epiphany about math facts and the difficulty of learning them.

When math facts are taught using only 1 method (such as flashcards or time tests), they aren’t connected to anything in the student’s real life.  We rely on basic repetition and the ability to recall this isolated thing.  We would never do that with spelling words.

Think about word study, reading and spelling.  Words are EVERYWHERE.  They are in front of us every waking moment of the day. Our brains connect letter patterns, word clusters and we read them constantly. Where do you ever see math facts? I mean truly, where do you ever see a math fact out in public?

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Words are everywhere. Math facts, not so much.

I am not entirely sure what the answer is, but I think we need to recognize this so that we are more sympathetic to students when they find difficulty in learning them.  I think we need to connect them to their lives as much as possible, present them with multiple ways of learning them and give them strategies so that they can see the awesome patterns that are present in math facts.