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Learning Resolutions: Memorize Those Math Facts

Learning math facts is an important step that helps students to better work with complex math equations as they get older. If they know the basics with automaticity, they can easily estimate answers and judge the reasonableness of their calculations. Children who don’t know their math facts tend to need more time for math work and are more prone to making easily preventable errors.

Standards vary somewhat from school district to school district and between private schools, but generally traditional schools will have students memorize their addition and subtraction facts through sums of 20 (10+10) no later than third grade. Often some or all of those facts are memorized during the first and second grade as students start manipulating numbers in equations. Students can start work on basic multiplication concepts as early as second grade, so they are usually memorizing multiplication facts in the third grade. Fluency with multiplication facts through 10x10 or 12x12 is expected in the fourth grade. Fact fluency is defined as being able to recall a number quickly (usually within three or fewer seconds) without calculation.

Though schools set these early targets for students to learn their math facts, it’s not unusual for students in the upper elementary grades to feel a bit shaky, particularly with multiplication and division. Teachers will often recommend extra practice over breaks, but won’t necessarily monitor students’ progress with math facts directly. Parents too will often see that their children need a math facts tune up and admonish their children to practice more. Just like practicing an instrument, reading books, or getting exercise, math facts practice is something that can slip through the cracks without adult supervision. Most children between nine and twelve do not have the maturity to create and maintain their own practice schedule.

The good news is that just ten to fifteen minutes of practice per day makes a big difference, as does a small commitment of three to four practice sessions per week. Making practice fun and varying the types of practice improve engagement and efficacy. On my Facebook page, I’ve posted some ideas for math facts practice. Links are below.

Tutoring is also a great way to improve math facts proficiency. I have a number of strategies I use with my students that range from card-based games, pencil-and-paper drills, movement-based games, and flashcards. While practicing, I help my students to see connections between fact families so that they are better able to build on previous knowledge. I can also provide practice materials to families that can be used in between tutoring sessions.


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