13 February 2012 09:45 AM

Master Those Basic Math Facts!

by rbavaria

March is National Math Month, so here at the Dr. Rick Blog we’ve been preparing for it by anticipating the topics of conversation we’ll inevitably hear next month.  Nothing like being prepared.


Elementary teachers tell me the importance of kids mastering their “basic math facts” of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division by the end of fourth grade.  Research bears them out.  Kids should have a fluent recall of basic facts in order to move on to more advanced math like algebra and geometry. 


Students’ recall should be effortless, without hesitation, automatic – hence mathematicians’ term – “automaticity.”   It’s really no different from the automatic reflexes of the well-conditioned athlete, the well-practiced musician, or the well-rehearsed actor.  The brain automatically processes the information. (“Oh, yeah, I know this drill.  Piece of cake.”) 


Besides allowing kids to move up to more challenging math – those higher level skills upon which so much of 21st century success depends – automaticity lets kids build their confidence along with their skills. 


Confidence leads to more learning.  Math anxiety?  Never heard of it.


Have a kid approaching fifth grade and still hesitant in his math facts?  Here are some ways to increase kids’ mastery.  Quickly.  Use one or more every day.


1.  Make flash cards.  A great way to practice.  They may be low-tech, but flash cards work.  Kids making their own has at least two benefits.  First, they’re thinking about math and the facts necessary to go on the cards.  Second, they’re learning as they’re creating.  Make it a family activity and have fun in the process.

2.  Play games.  Math games can promote math fluency.  And, besides, there’s nothing wrong with having fun while you’re learning.  Here’s a website I like .

3.  Sing songs.  Kids learn quickly when they can remember facts with song .  Make up your own math songs if you have to.

4.  Use money.  Coins and bills are easy and useful ways to learn math facts.  Play “store” and use make-believe money.  Make change.  Subtract discounts.  Figure out multiples of prices.  “Mr. Manager, these apples are twenty-five cents each.  How much for a half-dozen, please?”

5.  Use clocks.  Telling time is a great way to learn math, too.  “We have to be at school by 8:45.  It takes twenty minutes to get there.  What time should we leave?”

6.  Have speed trials.  Let your child time her “sprints” of five or ten math facts.   Get an inexpensive stop watch – or just use the second hand on yours – and let her see her improvement over time.  Make a progress chart.  Have reasonable, meaningful rewards – a favorite treat, some extra bedtime minutes on weekends, or special time with you, without siblings.

7.  Encourage study buddies.  Study buddies allow kids to learn from each other, to recognize each other’s talents, to challenge each other, and to celebrate with each other.  Sometimes kids ask each other questions they don’t ask us.  Sometimes they explain better than we do, in their own language.  

8.  Give “pop quizzes.”  Every day pop some math questions on them .  “Quick, Emily, what’s nine times nine?”  “Aaron, one hundred minus twenty?”  To motivate them and to let them learn by doing, let them quiz you.  Turnabout is fair play.

9.  Monitor homework.  Make sure your child’s homework  is complete, accurate, and neat.  Make sure he turns it in.  (Check that backpack often.  Parents tell me they’re frequently amazed at what they find in there.  “You’ve had this note from Mrs. Porter for how long?”)

10. Be a role model.  Show that math is important to you.  From time to time talk about cool jobs that rely on math – musicians need timing, sports writers need statistics, pilots need geometry, high-tech industry needs precision.  If you disliked math in school, for heaven’s sake keep it to yourself.


You can also find lots of help on the internet.  There are plenty of websites that can give you good ideas.  Here’s one . 


Lots of kids need a little help now and then.  If your child has fallen behind in math, if he’s dreading math class, if his grades are dipping, if he’s lost his confidence, get help right away.  He won’t be able to build on a weak foundation, and his confidence is sagging.  The company I work for, Sylvan Learning , has helped thousands of kids catch up, keep up, and get ahead with their math.  Just get help.




















2/23/2012 9:14:17 AM

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3/8/2012 9:20:05 AM

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