When adults recall their experience in mathematics, typically it involves some memory related to math facts. The feelings and anxiety associated with these memories are usually anticlimactic to what every teacher hopes a mathematical experience entails.
Many of us evaluate our math abilities based on how fast we could say or solve a math fact or a sheet of facts.
This could not be further than the truth. Brain research found that those who merely memorized facts were less able to transfer fact strategies to new mathematical situations, nor could they think flexibly and therefore were categorized as "low-achieving 1 .
Mathematics is about number relationships and reasoning through why methods and strategies make sense. When we slap labels on mathematics such as speed and memorization we create a culture that is missing the beauty of numbers.
So the million dollar question becomes, “How can I help my students become fluent with math facts without creating anxiety?” Memorization is not an effective approach. A superior strategy is to allow more opportunities for students to reason and decompose numbers. We use what students naturally know, foundational facts, to derive facts that do not come as natural.
For example, a young student learns to count by 2s and 5s early on in primary school. How can we help students use what they know about 2s and 5s to help them learn multiplication by 7s? Addition facts that include 9 are typically difficult for students. How can we use what we know about 10 to help us figure out +9? [see videos below]
The problem with using a stop watch is that it does not allow them sufficient time to derive facts. Students associate meeting a time requirement with their overall math abilities, which is not the case. The student may simply be using strategies that we know builds long term flexibility. This provides an opportunity for relational understanding to multi-digit problems.
When we preach that we believe in learning strategies then give a timed test at the end of the week we negate the research that is screaming for us to listen.
Join us December 9th, as Dr. Jennifer Bay-Williams shares what is truly meant by fluency and discusses helpful strategies for developing fluency.
On December 14th we will offer fun and engaging games that build the fluency we all desire. Please encourage your student's parents to join us.
1.Jo Boaler, "Fluency Without Fear: Research Evidence on the Best Ways to Learn Math Facts," Youcubed, March 2017