5 tips to building math fluency to help teachers set up math routines, lessons, and activities to develop student confidence, engagement, and math skills.
5 Vital Tips for Building Math Fluency
Why Build Math Fluency?
Math fluency is the desired outcome of continuous learning and practice in math. It is more than memorizing math facts and recalling answers to questions. It is feeling confident and able to take part in math lessons and activities. It’s the ability to complete assignments and activities accurately, without hesitation. It is engaging in math in fluid and effortless ways.
Provide the concepts necessary to develop a deeper and more thorough understanding of math. Math fluency develops gradually and at different rates for different children. A math concept may take years before reaching fluency, through many repeated experiences with it.
Ultimately, we want children to be able to understand and explain their thinking. We want them to be flexible and use appropriate strategies. We want them to be able to solve problems accurately and find the right answers.
Below are my five tips to building math fluency with primary students. Having taught first and second grade combined classrooms for years, I have experience implementing thoughtful and systematic ways of developing these skills in our daily math block, while meeting the needs of all learners.
Tip 1: Build Math Fluency with Frequent Lessons & Practice
Frequency is important to building math fluency. Math lessons and activities should occur daily during a systematic math block. When children are taught math and are given opportunities to practice skills daily, their math understanding develops.
Having daily whole group lessons, small group lessons, and independent activities, will help build confidence with new skills. When math lessons occur are part of daily learning, they become comfortable and familiar with strategies and can use them more easily.
Teaching a math skill once is not enough. Children may appear to understand a concept after it is taught and they may be able to complete an activity to demonstrate knowledge. Yet when they are asked to repeat an activity later or show understanding in a new way, they may have difficulty.
Plenty of time needs to be spent teaching and reviewing different concepts to learn them well. When the same skills are taught and reviewed repeatedly throughout the year and following years, those skills become automatic.
Ideas for Daily Math Fluency Practice
There are many opportunities for incorporating math into each day.
- When students enter the classroom, have a question of the day for them to answer and use the answers as a class to create a graph.
- Provide engaging math morning work for students to work on at their desks while the rest of the class gets settled.
- During transitions, have the class count (by 2’s, 5’s, 10’s, forwards, backwards) together to practice lining up or moving from one activity to another.
- Have math activities and centers ready for “fast finishers” to complete throughout the day.
- At the beginning of a math lesson, have a math problem ready with whiteboards and markers for students to attempt while you get organized.
- Have shelves and tubs filled with math manipulatives for students to explore when extra time is afforded.
- Build math fluency daily with Math Mats. They each provide important spiral math review for first grade. They can be completed independently, in centers, in small groups, or as a class.
- Complete number of the day activities and deconstruct numbers to help build number fluency.
Tip 2: Build Math Fluency by Providing Variety
Variety is also important to building math fluency. It is beneficial early on to provide many opportunities to experience math in different ways. This happens through a variety of activities, assignments, and lessons, as well as ways of teaching.
Imagine learning how to do something new, such as tying your shoes or riding a bike. If you are taught in only one way, you may become stuck. Either you may miss developing a deep understanding of the concept, that method did not work for you, or not enough practice was provided or encouraged.
As teachers, we need to get creative. We need to teach lessons in different ways. We need to connect math to the real world and real world problems. While doing this, we need to meet student needs individually and classroom needs as a whole. We need to provide appropriate support and sufficient practice along the way. Differentiation and providing each learner with a task at their level is important.
Ideas for Providing Variety
Provide a variety of activities that are hands-on and can be demonstrated in different ways.
- Involve children actively.
- Use manipulatives (i.e. cubes, blocks) as math tools. They can be used to demonstrate concepts, used for practice, for free exploration, and much more.
- Use different ways to teach a lesson, such as warm-ups, with literature, word problems, oral, drawing, and physical demonstrations, chants and songs, etc.
- Introduce many types of activities, such as games, interactive notebooks, centers, journals, math apps, etc.
- The Mindful Math curriculum includes a huge variety in every lesson and unit.
- Equally important is incorporating a variety of ways to practice and review skills, such as review tasks, practice worksheets, math fact drills, flashcards, assessments, centers, etc.
Tip 3: Build Math Fluency by Making Math Fun & Engaging
Making math fun is important to building math fluency. If children enjoy what they are doing in a daily math block, they will be more engaged in lessons. They will be eager to listen, try new things, and complete assignments. They will learn more if they are having fun.
Whether you have a specific math program you must follow or if you can design your own block, you have the opportunity to make things interesting for children. Put yourself in their shoes: would you want to complete worksheets and tests by yourself every day? Would you enjoy math? Would you retain anything? Ask yourself what you can do to build math fluency and make math fun and engaging for all students.
Ideas for Making Math Fun & Engaging
- Teach them different games and center activities to review and practice different skills taught in class.
- Have activities set up in the classroom that children enjoy and feel successful at.
- Include games with dice and cards that children can play on their own or with a friend.
- Have math centers prepared and ready for students to grab and try.
There are tons of fun math activities and ideas available to teachers today.
- Teachers Pay Teachers is an invaluable resource filled with different math curriculums, activities, lessons, projects, and so much more.
- Pinterest is another amazing place to find excellent math ideas.
- Simply search for the concept you are teaching, and you will find tons of activities that children will love.
- Check out my board of math activities and games.
Tip 4: Build Math Fluency with Mental Math
Another way to build math fluency is through teaching “mental math”. Mental math is the ability to think of and solve a problem quickly and independently. Mental math takes a lot of practice. In a sense, being able to complete math problems mentally demonstrates math fluency. Children must understand a concept well to be able to solve it mentally. Incorporating mental math into your day helps build fluency and children solve math problems automatically and with ease.
Ideas for Building Mental Math Skills
There are many ways that you can encourage students to use and build mental math strategies.
- Ask questions orally without any visual representation of the problem available. Encourage students to visualize the problem “in their heads”. Ask for students to put up their hands when they “have” the answer. This allows other students to have a chance to complete the question as well. After enough time, ask students to give their answers and explain their thinking. Children can learn a lot from others and the strategies they use.
- Mental Math flash cards can be used at the start of every lesson.
- Have daily math drills. Giving students daily or weekly math drills provide review and build speed. As this practice is repeated, fluency with math facts and mental math strategies develop. Also, knowing basic math facts will help build fluency later with higher level skills.
Tip 5: Build Math Fluency by Applying Problem Solving Strategies
Children need to understand how to solve a math problem. As teachers, we need to teach the steps and strategies one at a time. After learning a new strategy, children need to practice each strategy in order to gain fluency with it.
Solve problems in more than one way, and teach more than one different strategy. For example, solve addition and subtraction problems in different ways. Teach children to count using their fingers, to draw number representations, to use manipulatives (i.e. counters, counting objects, number line) correctly to find answers, and eventually, mental math.
Incorporating and teaching different strategies will help children build procedural fluency. This is important for completing future problems and assignments.
Ideas for Teaching Problem Solving Strategies
Teach problem solving strategies, like other math concepts, in a variety of ways.
- Use posters and diagrams to illustrate something new.
- Draw and write examples on anchor charts and post them in visible locations and refer to them when needed.
- Use different math tools and manipulatives.
- Create mindful, hands-on, and active lessons that get children using their bodies, hands, and minds in useful ways.
- Children above participated actively in the human number line game to illustrate the strategy of counting, adding, and subtracting using a number line.
- Have students show their understanding in different ways, through actions, illustrations, explanations, representations, and more beyond worksheets and tests.
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