Teaching Tuesday: Math Fact Magic

I have never used anything I (allegedly) learned in high school geometry, advanced algebra or trigonometry. Which is good, because I'm pretty sure I just memorized things for the tests. It's also good that I had no interest in being an engineer or. . .um, anything else that involves higher level mathematical thinking. But to be brutally honest? I'm not sure I've ever used any mathematical knowledge I developed after seventh grade. I mean, if I'd learned about checkbook balancing, interest rates and whatnot, that would have been handy. But I didn't.

Even more sad? I didn't really understand basic math until I was in grad school. I mean, I knew how to the math problems that did come up in my life, but only by using the formulas I had memorized. I had no facility with numbers and wasn't sure of the multiplication facts for 12 until I was actually teaching elementary school.

Do not let this happen to your kid.

First of all, I absolutely believe in having your kid memorize addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts. The more, the better. I would suggest going to 20 with addition and at least 12 with multiplication. Math facts are like the sight words of math - if you don't have to struggle over each one, your problem solving is a lot more fluent. So you'll want your kiddo to spend some time doing basic memorization drills. Here are some suggestions for making it less painful:

  • Have them make their own flashcards, or cards to trade with a friend. Buy some index cards at the dollar store and let them use markers to write. Practice with them for 5 minutes a day. 
  • Let them play online math fact games. FunBrain has Math Facts Baseball, really simple but way more fun for kids than worksheets or flashcards. ABCya has Math Facts Basketball, which is a little more complicated but the focus is still on the facts. Both of these can be used for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. 
  • Then you can go the tablet route and have them play games on there. For Kindle Fire and Apple products, check out Math Bingo, Squeebles Math games, Operation Math and Medieval Math Battle. 
  • Skip count. If you can skip count, you'll always have a quick to figure out multiplication facts. Don't just do 2s, 5s, and 10s - do 3s, 4s and all the rest up to 12. 
  • Have kids create a version of a board or card game, but with math facts instead. For example, have them make Candyland, but instead of colors, have the spaces on the board be numbers and the cards be math facts. 
But if you want your kids to develop an actual understanding of math facts, you have to go beyond games and activities that involve simply regurgitating the facts. You have to make them understand, manipulate and extend the facts. 

  • Make a deck of numeral cards - use index cards to make 3 sets of numerals from 1 through 10. For younger kiddos, you might want to have dots on the back side that match the numeral, such as 3 dots on the back of the 3 card. With this deck, you can play the Make 10 game. With Make 10, each person gets 5 cards. On each turn, you try to use two of your cards to "Make 10". If you can't make 10, you must draw from the pile until you can. You can make the game about addition, subtraction, multiplication or division by changing what the goal number is - Make 20, or Make 3, and so on. You can also make a deck of numeral cards using 10, 20, 30 and so on to 100. Then play similar games, but with the higher values. 
  • Try Witzzle. This is one that I never used in my classroom, I just happened to see it on Pinterest and I think it's brilliant. 
  • Have them make fact anchor charts for especially challenging facts. 

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