I tried many different approaches: worksheets of 100 problems printed off the internet, flashcards, timed tests, and a program called Rocket Math. Rocket Math was an interesting approach. It was very scheduled and regimented. The students would get a card with four new facts on it. They would practice saying those out loud a certain amount of times on their own and then with a partner. Then, they would take a timed test. If they passed, they got a different card with new facts to memorize the next time. The facts were necessarily related to each other and it took a lot of prep work. We had to beg for parent volunteers to come check these daily tests and switch out all the cards and practice sheets for each student. Still, I was willing to do this if my kids learned their facts. At the end of the year, I noticed that there was no major improvement. Those kids who knew their facts in the beginning, still knew them. Those kids who struggled, still struggled. So what to do?
My teaching partner had a really strong feeling that students would do well if they could see how the facts within fact families were related. We wanted our kids to see that these facts are not just arbitrary numbers to memorize, but that there are groups of related facts that make sense. So we came up with a plan.
We created flashcards that had the 3 numbers that went with the fact family. We didn't put signs in on purpose. When we practiced these, our students would says "two plus three is five. three plus two is five, five minus three is two, five minus two is three. Two, three, five. Two, three five." This may sound tedious (and it does take longer than normal flashcards), but it worked!! Our kids began seeing these numbers together and we were practicing two operations at once. We practiced these for 5-10 minutes a day and it worked miracles. We did things like silly voices, whispers, etc. to make it more fun.
We created Mighty Math. This was our own fact fluency program to help our kids in ways we hadn't found anywhere else. This is the general idea we came up with when creating our order:
Teaching addition and subtraction in this order has been empirically shown to improve learning outcomes (see link for more details: http://www.heinemann.com/shared/onlineresources/e02963/oconelladd.pdf ). Students begin with 0’s and 1’s because these link to their counting experiences. Sums can easily be found by “counting on”. Again, subtraction facts are included on each page so students begin to see the connection between the two. Ten as an addend is explored next to help students with their automaticity. This is a critical skill as students can use +10 facts as a way to simplify other facts that are near ten ( 8 + 4 is simplified to 10 + 2). Doubles are taught next to help with automaticity and recall on more complex facts. Next comes making ten. These facts also help build automaticity with more complex facts later on. After these facts, each fact from 2-9 is covered individually. Then, as an option at the end, a making 9’s set is included. This set will help students when they need to learn their 9’s multiplication facts. (9 x 3 can be thought of as one less than 3 which is 2. 2 plus what number equals 9? 7. The answer is 27.)
Students are given a timer Monday-Thursday as part of their math routine. They are timed for two minutes. In those two minutes they must complete the addition side and the subtraction sides. You can have the students trade them and grade them or you can collect them and grade them yourself. Answer keys have been provided.
We also created corresponding tests that the students take on Fridays. For example, if they have been on add/subtract 2’s for their timers all week, they will take the add/subtract 2’s test on Friday. If they pass this test with 100%, they move on to the next level of timer. I print the tests front to back and time each test for two and a half minutes.
You can grab my Fact Fluency Bundle here and try it in your room. I promise you, you won't regret it!