15 Fun Ways to Master Math Facts in the Middle School Years
Many middle school teachers will tell you that more than half of their students do not know their math facts. While in the classroom, there isn’t enough time to practice for mastery.
The task falls to families. You know that flash cards just don’t cut it. Some apps even just overwhelm and agitate your teen.
After many years of studies, we now understand that the brain needs to work from concrete thinking (quantities you can see), to representational (quantities we can represent with pictures), to the abstract (quantities written in number).
Concrete Math Instruction is for Every Grade
Concrete to abstract is the mantra of every special education teacher. It encapsulates the ark of learning to take any student from beginner to master at all levels of learning. But, why?
Concrete learning is the touching, feeling, smelling, tasting, and hearing you see babies and toddlers doing. It is the sounding out of letters and finger counting in elementary school.
When your child enters middle school, concrete learning looks like representing big thoughts in new ways. Think of the analogy to letter recognition in elementary. It’s the foundation to reading.
Math facts are the building blocks of big picture math thinking in middle school. When teens don’t have their math facts memorized, they are using so much working memory (brain power) to bring up a multiplication fact.
It is like watching three TVs with three different shows. It is hard to focus on one of the shows let alone retain the information from all three shows. The brain is in overdrive and can’t sustain that kind of thinking for long.
Memorization of Math Facts is a Must
This is why so many teacher push the memorization of math facts. Like the dreaded Mad Minute, timed tests are supported to encourage the memorization of math facts.
Memorizing information does not work until after you have learned the information. For example, using flash cards only works after students have retained the information.
If students have not retained the information, they need experience working with concrete and sensory experiences before working solely in the abstract.
Related: The Problem with Flash Cards (and what to do instead)
Multisensory Math Fact Activities:
Providing adequate support while learning math facts is important. I suggest going doing the “I do, we do, you do” on math fact families your teen has not mastered. No need to revisit all of them, only the facts that cannot be brought to memory quickly.
As the parent, you model the steps or the process. Then, have your child work with you enough times that you can see that they understand the concept. Lastly, let them independently solve the problems or try. This helps give a steady progression to mastery but the support to not incorrectly learn the information.
Think touch, sight, sound.
Beads and String
Get physical movement in with recall of math facts. Use the water bottle flip challenge to land on the game board and solve problems. Flip a coin. Use a sticky hand to slap the board.
Flip all the dominoes over (dots down). Take turns flipping over and multiplying the two ends of the domino together.
Works for addition too!
HINT: remove dominoes with dots more than 9 to help students with weaker number sense.
Roll two dice, multiply, and cover the answer with a marker or mini eraser. Try to BUMP your opponent! Download here.