February 8, 2019 by

Teaching students math fact fluency

Much of what we know about teaching students math facts is wrong. Timed tests are the primary culprit.

Authors Jennifer Bay-Williams and Gina Kling tackled the myths surrounding learning and retaining math facts in their new book, Math Fact Fluency: 60+ Games and Assessment Tools to Support Learning and Retention. Bay-Williams recently talked about the book’s findings and solutions on ASCD Learn Teach radio.

“The problem with anything that has time pressure is a child who is in a hurry is going to resort to what I would call a primitive strategy. They’re going to count or skip count because they feel this time pressure,” Bay-Williams said. “They might get very fast at counting, … but that’s not the goal. The goal is that they are able to generate a more efficient strategy and the only way they can do that is by being given think time.”

The solution, Bay-Williams said, is strategy-based learning, using tools like self-assessments, interviews and games. Games like “multiplication Tetris” can teach students strategies for solving multiplication problems in a fun and engaging way.

“Games are fun. They’re an opportunity to effectively practice strategies. And when students are playing games, the teacher is walking around the room and can see what strategy students are using and what is working,” Bay-Williams said.

The book encourages teachers to flip the traditional math lesson on its head. For example, Bay-Williams and Kling recommend starting a math lesson with a story problem, allowing students to visualize the real-life implications of the math being discussed.

“People are concrete thinkers through elementary school and, really, we all want to make sense of [things] and stories make things concrete,” Bay-Williams said.

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