August 3, 2016

Using Games to Build Math Fluency and Flexibility

Math Facts. Are there any other words that bring such anxiety to the minds of teacher, students, and parents alike? With that said, mastery of these early math skills is oh-so-important for academic success.Over the years, I have developed a system that works for real students learning strategies for Math Fact Fluency (note, I didn't say memorization...more on that later). Flashcards, games, number talks, quizzes, and student data tracking are all a part of what I have seen work for the students in my classroom. Today, I want to talk a little more about Games. 

Why should I use Math Games? 
Students who are stressed or bored are simply not going to sharpen or even retain what they are learning. Therefore, games allow students to sharpen and build their knowledge of Math Facts in a low-stress environment. A parent in my class has developed some games (Math Kit) to help families "cuddle up" with math facts-like you would "cuddle up" to read. I love that idea! It's true that we often approach our Reading instruction and practice with a much different attitude or philosophy than we do Math skills.   

Even more than the mastery of skills, enjoyment of the learning process is, in my opinion, just as important so if we want to foster a love of learning (all learning) in our students. If you can have fun learning, you should take advantage of that opportunity! 

How can I use Math Games?
I suggest teaching the Math game you are using in class and allowing students to practice in class. Maybe this means having them practice during the work time following your mini lesson. Maybe this means including it in your center time. I believe that Math Games can be used no matter how you teach Math. 

I also suggest sending directions home as a part of homework. I don't assign Math Fact worksheets for homework. I give students copies of the flashcards after I have taught them some ideas or protocols for how to use the cards. I send home directions either physically or via our blog. This way, students can practice their Math Facts in a fun and low stress way at home as well! BONUS: I don't have to make copies of or check over worksheets. 

Doesn't it take a lot of prep?
It can. Some teachers love to use lots of different games with things to copy, cut out, and laminate. But to be honest, that is just not my style. At all. So, I would say NO! Incorporating games into your Math time doesn't have to take much preparation at all! Most of the Math Fact fluency games in my classroom only require a deck of cards. Recording sheets are often optional (I've found they can slow kids down), other materials are simple, and copying is at a minimum. Even more, I reuse many of the games with different sets of Math Facts so that I don't have to spend much instruction time on teaching the games, either. 

Sounds fun, but don't my kids need to practice writing answers as quickly as possible?
Ok. So. When my kids practice in games, I don't often have them record their work. I figure 1. Their partner is going to correct them if they are wrong. and 2. Writing down answers is just going to slow down their work with the game. Ok....and 3. I don't need anymore papers to check and file. 

Here's why I think  know that it is ok that students are practicing Math Facts through games and not drill worksheets:
1. Mathematical Fluency and Writing Fluency are two different things. Think about that. Many students can work quickly in their heads, but struggle with putting that on paper. Yes, I do assess them with written work, but allowing them the time to practice their Math thinking without the added stress of writing it down is powerful, especially for our students in the primary grades.
2. I have seen my students meet standards and make improvements without daily drill on worksheets. All of what I'm sharing with you has become my passion because I have seen positive outcomes in my classrooms over the past years. 

Interested in learning more about how I approach Math Fact Fluency in my classroom? Read more:
Using Number Talks to Build Math Fluency and Flexibility

Interested in trying out my system for building Math Fact Fluency? Check out these products in my TPT shop:

Addition Facts By Strategy: Flashcards, Games, Number Talks, Quizzes

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