I firmly believe computational fluency and the related ability to quickly and easily recall the answers to basic math facts is a cornerstone of math success. I know there are a number of people out there who would argue that if a child can find a way to solve the problem that is good enough. However, I disagree. While I wholeheartedly agree that problem solving should be a major focus of math (although I prefer real world problems to word problems…seriously, who buys 435 pizzas or builds 945 birdhouses?), I think knowing the basic facts facilitates this goal.
Don’t get me wrong. I think it is great we are teaching kids using a variety of different strategies. I think understanding the conceptual basis of computation is HUGE! That being said, when push comes to shove kids need to know their facts. Want to know why?
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- Saves Time. All those strategies we are teaching kids are meant to help them, but they are also meant to be short term bridges. If a student has to draw an open number line or make a picture every time they need to add, they will never be able to complete their tasks in a timely manner…let alone understand the algebra that is being pushed down to even the elementary level. I am not even talking about school assignments. I am talking real world, out at the store shopping kind of math.
- Saves Mental Resources. Research on cognitive load supports the idea that we all have a finite cognitive capacity at any given moment. By memorizing (yep, I said that naughty word) their facts, students can use the resources they would have spent trying to figure out 6 +9 to actually do some real mathematical thinking. If a student is using all their mental energy just to figure out the basic facts, what is left for problem solving or determining whether all that computation they just did is even reasonable?
- Makes State Testing Easier. If you’ve looked at the released tests, you will notice that there is a growing trend toward problems where the student has to pick the right answer with an explanation. Three of the answers have computational errors. When students struggle to compute, these questions become another obstacle to good performance. For students who have strong computational fluency these are almost like free points!
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While I wholeheartedly agree that problem solving should be a major focus of math (although I prefer real world problems to word problems…seriously, who buys 435 pizzas or builds 945 birdhouses?), I think knowing the basic facts facilitates this goal. I also think learning math facts should be at least somewhat fun. I incorporate computation into my math centers. Here’s are the three computational math stations I rotate through in my room:
I typically use laptops 1-2 times per month for our computational fluency station. Xtramath.org is my go to site for quick math fact practice. During stations I always want the digital practice to be in short bursts (mostly because we have assigned days with our grade level laptops, but I can typically sneak them for 5-10 without too much hullabaloo ensuing. Plus they have a great iPad app so I can have my 1-2 that are really struggling do this daily as a part of math intervention.
Task Cards and Flash Cards:
I usually do task cards or flash cards two weeks of the month. have two sets of task cards in rotation. The first is for my friends working on their basic facts. The second is for those kids who’ve already mastered their basics. Right now I am loving these adorable birdie themed multiplication task cards from Suzy Palmer. They give my “fact masters” a good challenge, but are still a reasonable option for the amount of time my kids spend in this station each week. They have QR codes, which is perfect because I have two iPads in my room so I can leave one at this station for instant feedback. Even better, Suzy has them on sale for $1! Just click the image to get your copy.
I love math games for facts. I try to mix it up every month or so (while bringing back old favorites). Depending on the week you might see my kids playing Gotcha, using dice, or playing fact war with a deck of cards. This is ALWAYS a class favorite so I try to save it for the end of the month.