I remember when I first started teaching wondering how in the world I was going to fit all of the important skills and curriculum into our school day. My first year teaching I thought I would just introduce the curriculum and the math facts would follow as they learned the concepts, however, I soon realized that more explicit practice along the way was required if they were going to have enough exposure to really internalize and master the math facts in a fingersnap.
I thought back to what one of my graduate school professors said… if we tell students that a skill is important (like learning to read or mastering math facts) we can’t just tell them, we must show them by spending time on these important skills as a part of our school day. He said “A swim coach doesn’t use the whole practice to have the team stand by the side of the pool and talk about how to swim… the coach gets the team into the water… that’s how they get better.”
I wondered how I could find time to fit new material, math fact practice, and review and skill practice all into the same day.
Here are a few of the ways to fit math fact practice into your math block.
If you choose to have students to a morning work assignment when they enter the classroom, this is a great opportunity for repeated skill practice. If you have students practice building fluency with math facts, you will still be able to engage with students as they enter the room and students can often be more independent with these activities. I’ve used color by code, write the room, and other partner games during this time of day.
Morning Meeting Activity
I often chose to have some basic math problems on my morning message as a part of our morning meeting. This definitely increased exposure, but we also began to play some other group games which incorporated math facts. We played some clapping games and chanted doubles, we passed a ball and solved a math fact, we played “I have Who Has?”. This time of the day is designed for community building but other skills, like math facts, can certainly slide their way in.
Math Warm Up:
I’ve sometimes had a math warm up time. During this time I usually have students use flash cards with facts that relate to the strategy we’re focusing on (doubles, counting on to add 1,2, or 3 , making 10 etc). We’ve also used write the room activities as a math warm up, especially when we transition back from lunch or special during math time.
I quickly learned that choosing to format my math block using a guided math approach worked best for me and my students. Each day I would have three centers students would rotate through ( 15 minute mini lesson and 3 15 minute rotations). One of the centers each day focused on math fact fluency. Whether they were playing a store bought game, printable game or activity, or even a math fact game or app, they were practicing math facts during this time, usually in a way also related to the strategy we were practicing.
Math Cool Down
Just like your math warm up, you could have a math fact cool down activity. Whether as a class, in partners, or in a basic printable paper and pencil way, your students can get that practice in at the end of the math block.
I decided 2 years into teaching after reading tons and tons about how research pointed to how useless our homework packets were, that my only homework would be reading and math fact practice. I sent home math games, and you could even send home a little math buddy bag to give students games and materials that they could use to play basic math games.