Post: math facts -- a method that works -- bringing to top
Posted by victoria on 10/29/06
Well, this seemed to be an important topic and I answered
it seriously and at length, so I'm copying and reposting it
before it falls off the board. It would be nice to know the
OP saw it, please and thanks.
Re: math facts -- a method that works
Posted by victoria on 10/28/06
On 10/28/06, KelleeF wrote:
> Math facts memorization seems to be a constant struggle
> for everyone I talk to. So, I'm curious what everyone's
> expectations are. What is mastery? How many facts do you
> expect kids to complete and how much time do you allow?
> your students are expected to complete a facts worksheet,
> do you expect them to go in order or is it ok to skip
> around? Does anyone know of any studies out there on
> memorization of facts?
I work on this ALL the time.
There are tons and tons of studies out there about learning
and memorization. They tend to be listed under psychology
rather than education so teachers rarely pay attention to
You could search ERIC or google or for that matter
American and Discover and find enough to fill a room.
Almost all of these studies back up Mrs. Ross, my Grade 3
teacher (who was on top of things, believe me!) and my
grandmother and mother (who also really knew what they were
The very best way to learn a fact permanently is to do a
combination of three things:
(1) CONNECT it to other knowledge, ie work on
by repeated adding; and CONNECT to other senses, ie
with concrete objects and/or visual representations.
(2) PRACTICE it *ORALLY*
(3) PEPEAT, repeat, repeat -- *but* in MULTIPLE CONTEXTS.
it in as many different contexts as possible, ie do not
do table practice and then leave it, but rather do all
of applied problems where these facts will be needed.
Please note that filling out worksheets is nowhere on this
list. Filling out paper copying from one place to another
of very little benefit in putting things into memory.
Yes, I do use worksheets and workbooks, but I use them in
interactive fashion, discussing the meaning of the problems
as we go along; or, I teach the material orally, make sure
is understood, and then give the paperwork as a backup for
I teach addition and multiplication facts to students who
in deep deep trouble academicaly. Since I work as a private
tutor and people have to pay me cash out of pocket, I only
get called in after everything else has failed. The
techniques I am suggesting work with any student who is
teachable at all.
I have aso used this approach in a classroom, and it works
even better with students who don't have problems!
The following method is presented as you would use it in
Grade 3 to learn the facts from the ground up. The SAME
approach, streamlined a bit faster for review, works right
through high school.
(1) Present the logic and reasoning. For addition, three
dots and two blue dots; count the red dots (three) count
blue dots (two) count the total (five); SAY out loud "three
plus two is five" -- the WHOLE thing, question and answer;
your goal is to connect question and answer so separating
them is counterproductive. For multiplication, three rows
four dots; how many rows? (three) how many dots in each
(four) how many altogether? (twelve); SAY *out loud* "three
times four is twelve" -- the WHOLE thing, and make
sure "times" is clear, NOT "and" which means plus.
Once you have worked on four or five facts in the three
timeses, then start to build the table. One row of three
dots, one times three is three. Add a second row, two times
three is six. Add a third row, three times three is nine.
Keep giving concrete and visual models and having the
students actually count the dots. Then note that you are
adding three each time you add a new row, and build the
up by adding. **As many different *logical* routes to the
answer as possible**. Work on these facts every possible
you can think of and get books to give more ideas.
(2) Give paper and pencil work as a backup to each stage. I
have old books that have things grouped in three -- three
children to a table, three books to a stack, whatever --
all sorts of questions where students have to count from
given pictures, then make their OWN pictures/dots and
this making their own models is a huge step, one that is
often ommitted and that leads to much trouble later.
(3) Once the concept of what this thing *means* is down
solidly, *then* we go into memorization. Recite the table
ORALLY at a good steady rhythm. Three times one is three,
three times two is six, three times three is nine, and so
Takes a minute or two to go through the whole table.
Now, here is the big, big trick -- it is called "spaced
practice". You recite through the whole table **as a class
group** once or twice every morning and again every evening
for a week or two.
This takes less than five minutes at a time and can be done
as a transition activity or a "sponge" activity while
standing in line. Kids like oral recitation and it is fun
do. Make sure that they are all saying things in a good
steady rhythm, NO mumbling and NO racing to the end.
(4), Now, more paper and pencil work. At THIS stage you can
give the fill-out-the-table worksheets, and the mixed
practice of one times up to three times in random order.
these exercises mean something and actually connect to
something in the brain so they lead to real learning.
However I recommend very strongly against speed drills and
flash card drills at this stage -- you are teaching
FIRST, speed later. There is NO benefit in a fact mistake.
(5) Most students, after a week or two of spaced oral
will simply say "three times five is fifteen" -- they have
ingrained the pattern into their memory. The weaker ones
however will need more work. Don't panic!
(a) teach them that when they forget a fact they can count
the table to it, from three times one on up. (b) Send them
home with instructions to spend five minutes morning and
night (no more!) reciting the table with parents. (c) work
with them again on adding three more each time. If,
you find a fundamental weakness in addition and basic
sense (I often do) then you may find it useful to leave
multiplication to the side for a bit and teach the addition
facts in the same way -- that student can come back around
multiplication in a month or two. (d) some weak students
benefit from counting pennies or beads on an abacus or base
ten blocks. For you it may feel like a very long time, but
usually it is only a few months (your centuries) total
they get a grip on number sense and can start to move ahead.
(6) Once the three times are set, then the fours, the same
exact way. One little bit at a time. A week or two per
and in twenty weeks or just over half the school year, the
class KNOWS multiplication and will never forget it.
(7) When appropriate -- I use good books and follow along
with them for consistency -- you show the students that
rows of four can be turned on its side to make four rows of
three, so three times four and four times three are the
This message is repeated **concretely** with
a few hundred times over the course of the program so the
students understand solidly how it works.
(8) You are doing the table recitation at spare times while
standing in line or while transitioning into math class,
minutes morning and afternoon. Students who are not
it fast are also doing it for homework morning and evening -
and strees to parents no more than five minutes at a time.
This is vital, but it certainly is NOT your whole math
Now during class you are doing all sorts of applied
- the ones where there are three children at each table and
seven tables, so that makes how many children?; the ones
where you have four rows of three flags and three rows of
four flags, and is that the same or different and why or
not? ; and also the review/maintenance ones where Mary has
read 25 books and John has read 18 and how many all
and how many more has Mary done. As you build up you get
new types of problems, areas and money and so on.
You also spend a reasonable amount of time -- I would say
day in four or five -- on math fluency practice, just
Each of these, table knowledge, concrete application, and
fluency practice, feeds back to the others.
(9) when multiplication and its meaning and the first half
the facts are all quite quite well understood (my book
after the four times table) you introduce division, again
*concretely* as undoing multiplication, and do all sorts of
interesting problems with that.
(10) My books also start introducing two-digit
without carrying quite early, with carefully chosen
using the known table facts AND with concrete models to
that two tens = 20. This is empowering to students who get
understand how the whole system works while spacing out the
If you try to swallow the memorization of all 100 or 121
facts in one lump before you actually get to do anything
it, you will choke.
At the end of the year, your students know all the facts
really well and automatically, and more importantly they
USE this knowledge to answer real-world questions,
many that are meaninful to them.
They have also learned a powerful technique for
of any facts they need to know in the future, from second
language verb conjugations to medical school anatomy.