15 Fun Ways to Master Math Facts in the Middle School Years

by | Feb 2, 2017

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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.

Too much information coming in.

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.

Unifix Blocks

Use Unifix cubes to build towers of math facts.

LEGO Bricks

Create a couple of arrays (area models) to practice math facts then tie to the real world! Ask how many blocks would you need to make a certain sized patio, house, or road.

Beads and String

Work on groups of quantities with beads and a string.  Focus on math facts not mastered.  Touch the groups of beads as you name the quantity of 3 x 7.

Flip It!

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.

Playing Cards

Play the game of war with known math facts.  The first one to name the product wins.  If they can’t remember, turn cards over and make an array (area model).  Have teen fill in the grid with you, then count the quantity.

Guess Who?

Use an old set of Guess Who? and slide number papers inside.  The numbers are the products of two factors your teen knows.  Then ask questions like, “Is your number even?  Does your number have a factor of 5? A factor of 3?”

Dominoes

Flip all the dominoes over (dots down).  Take turns flipping over and multiplying the two ends of the domino together.

BUMP!

Roll two dice, multiply, and cover answer with a marker or mini eraser.  Try to BUMP your opponent!

Craft Sticks

Craft sticks to show groups of numbers.  Touch with hands as you skip count to the total product.

Rhythm

Use rhythmic activities while chanting math facts out loud.  Jumping rope, passing a ball, tossing a bean bag back and forth in your hands are all great ways to get into the rhythm of math facts.

Island Conquer

Practice math facts making array models (area).  Printable has coordinates, but using simple playing cards would work too.

Shake it up!

Roll two dice and multiply.  Try more than six-sided dice and even the mini kind.  Teens love the various styles of dice.

Base-ten blocks

Great for grouping and doing area models.  Wonderful for teaching math facts above 10.

Jenga

Use peel-n-stick dry erase paper and add to blocks. Skip the work and buy the plastic Jenga.  Write math fact problems on blocks with a wet erase marker.  Player draws block and names the math fact out loud.

Think mini.

Mini erasers make great counters for grouping quantities together.  Touch the groups as you skip count to the product.

We can’t wait for you to get your hands on these ideas.  We’d love to hear how you are working on math facts.  Leave them in the comments below.

Kara Scanlon

Kara Scanlon

Preferred Online Math Tutor

Kara Scanlon is a trained educational therapist and specialist in multisensory math.  As the owner of Scanlon Educational Therapy, she gets results when traditional tutoring hasn’t worked.  You can get to know Kara a little by reading her posts here on Math for Middles and schedule a time to tutor with Kara here.

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