Why are basic math facts important to memorize?

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There are several reasons why learning math facts to fluency is a critical skill.

  1. Calculators expect users to have a ready knowledge of simple facts in order to know when errors entering data return incorrect answers.
    Children who don’t have a quick grasp of the facts do not generate correct estimates or make good guesses in complex math problems. Their problem solving ability is hurt because they cannot tell if an answer “makes sense.”
  2. Lack of fluency with math facts limits the number of more advanced math problems students can and will do on a daily basis. Because doing math problems are so slow and difficult students resist doing their math assignments and thereby learn less.
  3. Students who are being distracted because their fact knowledge is not automatic find it difficult to learn complex math algorithms. Students who are automatic with their math facts find it much easier and are much more successful at higher level math.
  4. Once students reach fractions, they need to figure out common denominators, equivalent fractions, reduce fractions and cancel out like factors. All of these procedures depend upon instantaneous recognition of multiplication facts. Students cannot easily learn, nor easily understand fractions procedures without a ready knowledge of multiplication facts.
  5. Mastery of fractions, decimals, percentages and ratios is required for students to be ready for algebra. Algebra is the gatekeeper to all higher math classes and success on the SAT. Higher math is the gatekeeper to 4-year colleges and all of the more technical professions. For some students all of these opportunities are denied due to lack of mastery of multiplication math facts!

Rocket Math Overview

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We know, as teachers, that we can trace our students’ difficulties with higher order math algorithms to a lack of fluency with basic math facts. We also know that we need to do something about our students’ lack of fluency without sacrificing loads of time that needs to be spent on the core math program. What do we do you ask? Here is the answer!

Rocket Math is a structured program for the sequential practice of math facts. The program is structured in a consistent manner (Let’s hear it for consistency!) through all four operations so teachers can implement a simple daily routine. (Simple is good!) The key uniqueness of the program is the slow introduction of new facts and the structure that will allow students to progress towards mastery at their own pace. This has proven to be a powerful ingredient in the success experienced by the students and appreciated by the teachers as students become fluent in math facts. This way of organizing math facts is both research-based and has had many years of on going field success. Allowing quick learners to master higher operations while students who require more time on an operation proceed at their own rate, builds confidence along with mastery. Each day’s routine takes no more than six or seven minutes of class time…Really, six or seven minutes!

The program’s daily component consists of one page practice sheets lettered A-Z. The outside of each page gives practice focused on 2 facts and their inverses. (Only four new facts at a time you ask? Yep!) The inside is a timed test on the facts learned thus far. A timed test every day and YOU don’t have to create it! (Sounds good to us too!) Students who meet or beat their goal get “glory” and a new sheet to work on (with two new facts and their inverses of course). Students who do not pass, take home the test and practice and repeat the page again the next day. Same thing happens the following day: practice on the outside on the facts learned thus far, then take a timed test on the inside. Students record their efforts on a rocket chart on which they color in lettered squares for each sheet they pass.

There are placement tests for accelerating students into an operation in which they already have some proficiency. There are tests of writing speed so that adjusted goals can be created for students who can’t write fast enough to answer 40 problems in a minute. Students with such adjusted goals are expected to always meet or beat their previous best to pass. How smart does this sound? Sounds smart to us too!

Within each operation there are also five progress-monitoring tests (2-minute timings of ALL the facts). Every week or two students take these two-minute tests and graph the results on blank graph forms provided. This enables the teacher and students to keep track of their progress in memorizing these facts. These progress-monitoring tests are powerful tools for encouraging students as well as perfect data collection and management tools.