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Make Math Fun Again by Memorizing Math Facts

Make Math Fun Again by Memorizing Math Facts

The key to success in math is the automaticity of math facts.

First, it is important to know the meaning of the word, automaticity. It is one of those buzz words that is used so often in education without serious thought being given to its meaning. Automatcity comes from the word, automatically. We do things automatically when we don't have to think about them. 

We have had to learn many things that are automatic to us now. For example, walking, writing, or tying your shoes. Each of these things were very difficult when we were first introduced to them, but we practiced (a lot!) and now we can do them without thinking. We have developed automaticity.

Memorizing math facts is the same as any other activity in developing automaticity. We need to practice until we can do it without thinking.

Often the question arises, why? Why do we still need to memorize math facts when we have calculators on our phones? Why do we need to memorize math facts when we are never going to use them in real life?

I will answer the second question first. Math is real life. Every person on Earth uses math every day, just to live. Can you imagine buying groceries or planning a trip without using addition or subtraction? What if you have more than one person in your family? You will definitely be using some multiplication and division! Math is real life.

Second, why memorize math facts when we have such easy access to calculators? It turns out that doing basic math takes up a lot of space in our brains. The average adult can only hold about six pieces of information in working memory at once. The average kid can hold four or five. This isn't a lot of space, and if a bunch of that space is taken up thinking about basic equations, you don't have very much room left for problem solving. This means you are going to make mistakes. Not something you want to do on your tax forms or business plan.

The automaticity of math facts frees up space in working memory. If you don't have to think about the answer to 8 + 3, you have more space to think critically, check your work, estimate, and actually solve the story problem you are trying to answer.

Kids who struggle with math generally struggle with math facts. Their brains are so full just trying to figure out basic equations that there isn't any room to work with the new concepts being taught.

Hopefully, you now agree that learning math facts is important. Now, we have a new question. How do I help my student or child memorizing these math facts?

There is only one answer. Practice. Practice. Practice. There is no magic formula that will put math facts into a child's brain. It is hard work. You can work with flashcards, computer programs, worksheets... It really doesn't matter as long as the time and effort are given. You might find one method works better for your child than others - that is great! Use that! 

Over the years "drill and kill" has gotten a bad name, but for learning math facts - that is what it takes.

I taught third grade for two years without really understanding that my most important job in math was to get these kids automatic with their math facts - addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. This year, with a little more time to think, I have realized that mastering math facts in third grade is vital to success in math for the rest of a child's education. 

With that idea in mind (and my two daughters who are in second and third grade), I created fact practice books. They are nothing fancy. Just math facts (using models) over and over and over again. I put in some cute decorations because I have one daughter that is always an early finisher and loves to color. I handed the books over to my girls, and they loved them! They asked if it was okay if they worked on them after they finished their homework. I reluctantly agreed.

One month later, my math-anxious third grader took her first multiplication timed test and aced it. This was unbelievable because she has never been able to beat the timer on a timed test before now. We have had so many tears and angry words about these darn math tests. 

I am not saying that these books are the only way to learn math facts. There are so many ways to work on math facts. The important thing is to do the work. 

I am saying that these books will make life easier for teachers and parents because they are designed for kids to work independently. This means kids can be working quietly on their math facts while you work with a small group or just get a moment of quiet. 

Early finishers can work on their books, pages can be assigned as homework, and you can even print out different parts of the books for each student. One student can be working on 2 - 5 while another is tackling 6 - 7. There are so many ways to customize this experience for every child. 

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