I attended a parent meeting earlier this week hosted by Miss Priss’ first grade teachers. It was a kind of state of first grade discussion and a heads up of school work that is on the horizon. The hurdle this spring is the math facts tests. This is my second time around the math facts race track. I will admit that I am the kind of mom who sits with my child every night and runs flashcards for 10 minutes (hey, I am a teacher and a rule follower, and I was told to practice every night– I can’t help myself).
Many parents dread math fact tests and wish the whole process would go away, but it does have long term benefits. Students who have automatic recall of math facts by 4th grade can handle long division, multi digit multiplication, and higher level math concepts more easily because they are not struggling to do the small stuff. The head of the primary grades at our school compared math facts to letter sounds. If students don’t know how letter sounds work, they can’t combine the letters into words and sentences. Math facts are your building blocks to bigger math ideas. Even though it may seem like your child will never master math facts, there are strategies to help make the process easier.
- Make flashcards using 3 x 5 notecards. Write the math fact on the front of the card vertically since math fact tests are typically set up with the math problems presented vertically. Use a Sharpie pen to write on the front and write the answer on the back in pencil, so the answer won’t show through the card.
- Spend no more than ten minutes at a time running the flashcards. There is more benefit to small amounts of daily review rather than one big chunk of study time the night before the math facts test. If
youyour child really wants to master the math facts, there really is no way around practicing every school night. That means plan to review 5 nights a week.
- There is no need to practice all of the cards. As a student practices math facts, keep two piles of flashcards. One pile should be the cards kids know without hesitation. The other pile is the math facts that take longer to answer. Continue to practice the more difficult pile. Occasionally mix some cards in from the easy pile, but don’t feel you have to practice every single math fact every single night.
- At our school, students graduate to the higher numbers upon mastery of the lower numbers. We start with addition and subtraction facts for the 1s, 2s, and 3s. When Miss Priss passes this first test, she will add the 4s math facts but will need to maintain the previous facts. Create sample tests in the style of the school’s test and practice them at home. Include a variety of facts on the test.
- The point of the math facts test is to demonstrate automatic recall, so students need to complete the tests in a short amount of time. A little strategy can help if your student gets nervous when the timer starts. Move left to right across the test and top to bottom– just like reading a book. Do not jump around. Have a system for filling in answers.
- Be prepared to skip, skip, skip. Often students will fixate on one problem while the clock runs down. Do not pause at one problem too long. If the answer isn’t produced quickly, skip the problem and come back after reaching the end of the test if time allows.
- Make flashcards of any of the missed problems and practice those flashcards only. It is ideal to practice only two missed math facts at a time. Once the two missed facts are mastered, then add two more that were more difficult until a passing grade is earned.
- If your child is truly not improving on his or her math facts tests, speak to the teacher. Some teachers will let a student take a test before school without the distraction of other students or let a student call out answers orally to the teacher in a one-on-one situation. This will build confidence, so the student can then take the test whole group.
- It is not the end of the world if your child never completes a 50 problem math facts test in 2 1/2 minutes (or whatever the goal is at your school). But, it is worth regular review during the school year even if your child never gets that speedy.
- Nothing beats a plain old paper flashcard. Students can use these on their own or with a partner. We even keep a set in the car, and Mr. Star Wars will practice for ten minutes on the drive to school. I imagine Miss Priss will do the same.
- Try to create rhymes or clues to help cement the answers. I think most people are familiar with the 9s trick for multiplication up through 9×9 where you separate the sum and the two numbers total 9.
- 9×2 = 18– 1 is one less than 2, and 1 and 8 add up to 9
- 9×3 = 27– 2 is one less than 3, and 2 and 7 add up to 9
- We have one website and one app we use for a little variety. There are a ton of choices out there. If you are looking for an online tool, try to find practice where you can set the time, the operation, and the maximum numbers that will be viewed in the problems. That way you can target the practice to the range you need. Here are two online resources I like.
- Give your child practice paper tests likes the ones they will complete at school. Even use a timer to make the practice as authentic as possible. Our school combines addition and subtraction on the same test in the primary grades, and students master up to the 12’s in first grade. Below are links to homemade practice tests for my first grader.
Unfortunately, there is no magic formula that I have found to master the math facts. As much as your child may want to “wing it” there is no getting around daily practice to become really proficient. That daily practice can be in a variety of forms (flashcards, practice tests, online games, etc.), but it does require repeated review– and lots of it.