So, what does this have to do with math fact fluency?
As I work with my students to prepare them throughout the year for the state mathematics assessment (and more importantly to think and perform like real world mathematicians) I continue to witness how many students' problem solving abilities are greatly impaired because they have not mastered basic facts across all operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division).
Why is math fact mastery important?
We can only hold so much information in our "working memory" (the part of your brain that stores and manages information for a short amount of time). If a child's working memory is tied up trying to remember a math fact, while also trying to learn how to simplify fractions, or find a common denominator, he or she is likely to become frustrated and give up. In many cases, children start to see themselves as "not good at math" when that's simply not true. A bit of practice can make all the difference!
If we want to teach our children to eventually become competitive players in a global market, we need to give them the skills they need to succeed. In the United States and other countries, there's a recent push to introduce and expand STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). If we want our children to participate meaningfully in these learning experiences, they need to be mathematically literate. Mathematical literacy depends greatly on math fact fluency.
As parents, we get very concerned when our children cannot read - that is decode the text. Yet, somehow, we often do not seem to get as alarmed when our children haven't mastered the basic building blocks of higher level mathematical thinking. We need to be concerned, and we need to do something about it.
How does a child reach mastery?
You know the answer to this, but I'll post it anyway because it's worth repeating: PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! The good news is that our children are growing up in a very technologically advanced age. There are myriad ways for them to gain computational fluency without having to pull out the old-fashioned flash cards that many of us used as kids (although there's absolutely nothing wrong with them).
It's our job as parents and teachers to ensure that children are taking the time daily - yes, daily - to actually practice the facts until they reach mastery.
Here are some of my favorite sites, some subscription and others free, that help children to practice. It's important that the practice have an element of urgency and timing to it. That's what helps students to gain automaticity with the facts:
IXL Math Is a subscription site that has fact practice and lots of other leveled math problems. Although a very useful site, IXL does not time students in a way that creates a sense of urgency in their fact practice. The site allows students to solve 20 problems free each day without having an account. Yearly memberships average approximately $80.00
Reflex Math Has more of a game-based, timed focus on math fact practice. Home subscriptions can be purchased for approximately $35.00
First in Math game-based site that focuses on lots of aspects of fact fluency and number sense and many of the games provide a sense of urgency to solve the problems quickly. This site can be accessed for a yearly fee of $30.00.
Xtra Math is a free web-based practice site that also builds fluency through timed practice. Reviews from my students suggest that it isn't as much fun as some of the subscription sites.
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has created a free game site that parents, students, and teachers can access. It's called Calculation Nation.
There are many iPhone, iPad, and Android apps that also focus on fluency. I'm not going to post those here as you can easily find them by searching for those on your device.
Once students have begun to master facts, there are many board and puzzle games that can be used to practice and apply the facts in fun ways. All of these are available on Amazon.
CheckMath!, which plays like checkers, was developed by a math teacher to help students with factors and multiples.
For younger students, Sum Swamp, is a fun way to practice addition and subtraction:
The "24" game was developed many years ago by the creators of the First In Math site mentioned above. This problem solving game requires players to strategically combine multiple operations to arrive at an answer of "24".
A favorite in our house is "Shut the Box". A dice rolling game where low score wins:
No matter which method children use to practice, the most important thing is that they actually make sure there's commitment to doing it daily. Your child's teacher (and eventually your child) will thank you!