It’s MAD MINUTE time. You know the drill…get out your pencil and when I say “go” do as many facts as fast as you can!
Kids start racing through using any quick strategy they can come up with (including copying a fact they already did just to get the answer quicker), they get half way done and hear their teacher yell out the three dreaded words… “ONE MORE MINUTE!” Now the child starts to feel more pressured and has the feeling of failure setting in, when in fact they may be able to answer the questions.
There is so much pressure tied to students doing math facts “super fast” that oftentimes it brings students back to one-to-one counting, makes them nervous and sweaty with panic, or at times turns off their brain from thinking of numbers and how they go together.
Some children just don’t perform well under pressure. For example, why was it our daughter in 2nd grade was not successful doing her addition and subtraction math facts in a “mad minute” time test, but when given Number Bond cards she could breeze through them doing both the addition and subtraction? Yet, on her report card it stated she hasn’t “mastered” math fluency. She is now in 3rd grade and is stuck on her 4’s and 5’s in the “time test,” however when given number bonds (using both division/multiplication) she can figure it out. Then when given application problems she can apply the concept in a way that completely makes sense. I think maybe we are confusing the concept of what “fluency” actual means.
So does it matter if you complete the fact in 3 seconds or if you complete it correctly in 4 to 5 seconds? Is it as simple as you either have it or you don’t? If you can’t finish a mad minute, does that mean that you don’t have math fluency? What truly matters?
To me FLUENCY means EFFECTIVELY & EFFICIENTLY…simply put! If our daughter can figure out 7×7 but using what she knows about numbers to help her solve it (applying 8 Math Practice #1) such as (7×5) + (7×2) and gets the answer with great reasoning…then THAT is what matters…not that she can parrot back the product so fast that she can’t think. No child should have to get sweaty while doing math or feel panicked. This causes early onset of math anxiety and is not how I want children to think of math. Math is fun and exciting! Isn’t that what it is all about?
As I have presented across this beautiful nation, people have lots of thoughts on this subject—from what they think is right (or have kept as a routine) or what districts have mandated as the best way to measure math fluency. Each year I meet more and more teachers with their own math anxiety, and I am not surprised to find out that this started when they were young. Many elementary teachers and adults will admit they don’t have good mental number sense because when they were taught there was one right answer and one procedure to get there. We find many elementary teachers who feel their math pedagogical knowledge is not nearly as strong as reading, and we oftentimes discover many “aah-hah!” moments in our trainings when talking about number sense.
I think you would agree this is a sensitive subject!! I have seen it all, from classrooms who don’t do fact tests at all in their classrooms, to the good ole ice cream scoops advertising to everyone which math fact you are stuck on! Isn’t it about time we start looking at this differently in education in the United States and put this practice to rest? When are we going to get to a point in math content that math is NOT about memorizing procedures with concepts that are not understood. Instead we need to build that foundation and relate each part to that base.
I love what Jo Boaler has to say and would call her an ambassador on this subject. Check out her article in Ed Weekly and these other great articles on the subject: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/07/03/36boaler.h31.html
If you are interested in using flashcards that are more meaningful than traditional fact cards, check out the number bond cards at Crystal Spring Books website.
What are you going to do to help your school start looking at math fluency differently? Please share your comments!