Laying the Foundation for a Love of Math

As summer break approaches parents often ask what are some ways they might support their child to stay engaged in their learning? Helping your children to master their basic math facts with automaticity is a practical and effective strategy to enhance their overall success in math. Basic math facts are the sums and products of the numbers from 1 to 9, as well as the related subtraction and division problems. During our latest Elementary School Roundtables, our K-5 teachers resoundingly shared that helping children to master their basic math facts would be greatly beneficial! When students demonstrate math fact fluency, they have the ability to quickly and accurately recall the answer to basic problems. 

As I reflect back on my own childhood, my mother had me sit at the kitchen table every morning before I could go outside to play and write out my basic math facts or practice flashcards. For twenty minutes, I would sit with my orange juice and a large yellow legal pad and scribe the basic facts and practice the inverse operations. Developing speed and accuracy with these calculations supported me to efficiently solve more challenging multi-step word problems. I attribute lifelong love of math and confidence in the academic subject to a strong conceptual foundation (number sense) coupled with efficient computational fluency.

Rote memorization and skill and drill practice is often criticized by current educational researchers such as Jo Boaler, author of Mathematical Mindsets. Boaler asserts that children are inherently natural mathematical thinkers and users, searching for patterns in the world and seeking to understand the rhythms of the universe. She notes that this natural wonder and curiosity are often squelched when we teach children that math is a fixed set of rules that you either ‘get or don’t.’ Children lose the joy and fascination with mathematics when math is taught as a stagnant set of formal procedures and methods you must follow and remember. 

However, some educators will argue that overly emphasizing an “understanding-centered” approach to learning math, combined with efforts to make the subject more “fun” by avoiding drill and practice and memorizing procedural methods actually shortchanges children. According to researcher K. Anders Ericsson, some learning just plain requires effortful practice, especially in the initial stages. Becoming an expert at anything requires the development of neural patterns that are acquired through practice and repetition. Execution, application, and even some memorization are what allow the neural patterns of learning to take form. Automaticity with basic math facts reduces the cognitive load of students, helps with recall speed and accuracy so they may stay focused and solve complex problems more efficiently and confidently. 

At BCD we strive for a balance between teaching conceptual understanding and procedural skills of mathematics and recognize that there is a very strong link between the two. We value the NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) Process Standards of Problem Solving, Reasoning and Proof, Communication, Connections and Representation. Go Math! curriculum supports children to demonstrate their depth of knowledge about mathematical concepts, to make deeper mathematical connections, using multiple representations to illustrate mathematical relationships, and to communicate mathematical thoughts clearly and effectively, preparing them well for IB Math in Middle School.  We also believe the development of automaticity and efficiency with procedural skills supports children to approach and to solve higher-level problems with confidence and success. At BCD, our teachers advise using a balanced approach that supports both conceptual understanding and procedural fluency in order to establish the powerful brain connections of a mathematical mindset.

So what is the best way to help students learn their math facts? Below I’m sharing a list of resources suggested by our master BCD teachers. I hope that your children grow to love math as much as I do and that the combination of skills and practical application of math in everyday life help build the confidence and skills that every student deserves.

Author: Jill Johnson, Head of Elementary

A plethora of inspiring and engaging resources for all grade levels from Youcubed can be found here.

Math Cards- Emphasis of number sense while learning basic facts https://www.youcubed.org/tasks/math-cards/

Bowl-a-Fact-  students practice adding number combinations to get specific results https://www.youcubed.org/tasks/bowl-a-fact/

Mathbreakers – This lets you play with math while exploring a 3-D virtual world, filled with number creatures and mathematical machines. It also helps the development of number sense conceptually. http://www.mathbreakers.com/ 

Wuzzit Trouble –  In this app you have to release the creature from jail by turning the gears. It helps you develop number flexibility by using addition, subtraction, factors, multiplication, and other mathematical concepts. https://www.brainquake.com/

Math Facts Made Easy – This is an inexpensive Kindle book designed to help your kids learn their math facts without the use of flashcards, but through using visualization techniques for memory.

Two Plus Two is Not Five – This is a book of strategies and practice worksheets for memorizing addition and subtraction facts.

Math in a Flash – These flashcards for addition, multiplication, and division are durable and color coded by number family.