Is math your scariest subject? Are you one of the moms who are reluctant to homeschool simply because you are afraid you can’t teach your kids math?
But you can definitely teach your kids to excel in math and you can do without paying a tutor or sending them to school!
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One of my biggest fears when we first considered homeschooling was that I would be unable to teach the kids math. Just like you, I was worried that my own learning gaps would hurt my children.
My deepest desire was to give my children the best education possible, especially in math. And I found the tools to do that when I came to understand the idea of math fluency.
Math fluency is the key to teaching kids how to excel in math, how to master it, and even how to love it.
I am going to show you the importance of math fluency and review a great math fluency resource, Building Math Fluency.
What is math fluency?
Math fluency is the ability to use different computational strategies to reach solutions quickly and effectively. This means that kids can assess a problem and predict which method would be the easiest to calculate the answer.
Many people drill their kids with flashcards, driving their kids to memorize the facts. While this gives the same quick response as fluency, it lacks the diverse and flexible thinking skills that define fluency.
Why is math fluency important?
This study found that fluency was an accurate predictor of mathematics success in the long term. It is not unique.
Researchers and teachers alike have noticed a strong correlation between fluency and success in math and related areas for decades.
Researchers have even noticed that the brain changes in response to fluency. Which makes sense because researchers have noticed that those who are fluent pull information from a completely different area of the brain than non-fluent people.
During the high school years, activity in the area of the brain is linked to insufficient math fluency was also linked to lower PSAT scores.
Fluency allows you to work the same problem in many different ways. This flexibility is the key to being confident in problem-solving. When a child is not intimidated by simple calculations, they have more mental labor available for wrestling the deeper part of the problem.
We must teach our kids many different computational strategies so that we can give them the tools to face each and every problem with a fresh and appropriate strategy.
Math concepts build upon one another. Multiplication is repeated addition. Exponents are just special types of multiplication.
Algebra is basically realizing that math is a puzzle, with pieces that directly relate to each other. Understanding each of these basic concepts makes it easier to understand the more complicated ones.
If we spend our time focusing on making kids just memorize facts, we are not giving them the tools on how to really use numbers and their relationships to each other.
This will leave them high and dry when they come to a problem where they need to understand addition in the realm of a division problem, like in remainders. For example, 28/5 = 5 R 3, right because 5*5=25 and you must add the remainder of 3 to get 28. A fluent way to write this would be 28/5=5R3 = 5*5+3 (see how I used addition?).
How to Build Fluency
I briefly mentioned earlier that some people focus on memorizing the math facts as a way to gain mastery, help free up mental labor, and help kids gain confidence.
However, rote memorization does not mean a child or adult is fluent in mathematics. Memorization alone does not provide the flexibility in calculations that set a student up for success in higher mathematics.
So if rote memorization isn’t the way to build fluency, what is?
Teach your kids different computational methods. Teach them to use addition to solve a subtraction problem. Does this make absolutely no sense to you?
Well, I bet you do this without realizing it. Let’s say you get a coffee and the total is $1.23. Do you think about the problem like this: .23 + .02 = .25. Then .75 + .25 = 1. So your change should be .75 + .02 or $.77.
To put it in other other words, I am using easy addition problems to solve a subtraction problem. You may have seen a meme like this:
This meme is used to make people think that CC is unnecessarily complicated, but the CC way is only complicated if you don’t truly understand the relationship between addition and subtraction.
Teaching Fluency if you aren’t Fluent
If you are realizing that you are not fluent, all hope is not lost if you want to raise kids who are fluent in mathematics. You also don’t need to enroll them in school, either. It is all about your resources. Now, I am going to review one of the best resources for promoting fluency I have ever seen.
Evan-Moor Educational Publishers have a Building Math Fluency series, and I am reviewing the 4th-6th-grade level.
This book is set up into 8 major sections:
A teacher section: a short introduction to the book, how to use it, some reproducible tools, and a glossary of math terms.
1 each of Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, Division (total of 4 sections): Each section includes computational strategies and practice. A double-sided cheat sheet starts each section. One side is a simple explanation of each strategy, and the other is simple examples. Then there are labeled practice pages for each strategy.
Test Your Knowledge: Short exercises or tests if you prefer to evaluate progress. These exercises can be timed to judge fluency.
Flash Cards: 269 flashcards are included
First, Building Math Fluency recognizes the value of the diversity of learning styles and includes a page that helps kids think about how they best understand things: in pictures, words, or in actions. Then each section has resources aimed at each of the 3 ways so that kids can practice in the way that is most valuable to them.
Second, these strategies are gold!
They are simple, easily understandable, and once you see them, you are going to wonder why you didn’t think of these yourself. For example, two addition strategies that I think everyone uses is the “See 8, Think 10” and the “See 9, Think 10”. These teach your to add 10 then subtract 2 or add 10 then subtract 1, easy.
Some of these strategies reinforce algebraic skills, too. Like subtraction strategy “Think Addition”. I have already talked about using addition to complete subtraction problems. So instead of 29 – 13 = ? You would think 13 + x = 29. One could easily solve this problem by thinking 13 + 7 = 20, 20 + 9 = 29, so 7 + 9 = 16. This strategy shows the inherent relationship between addition and subtraction, a foundation of Algebra. It makes so much more sense learning to balance equations when you understand that addition and subtraction balance each other. Same for multiplication and division.
There are little bubbles above each problem on some exercises, and these are for you to write the strategy best for that problem. I just feel like this is a really nice way of getting kids to think about the different strategies and keep them from becoming too dependent on one.
This book is also chock a little lizard character that adds some fun, but also asks some great scaffolding questions to get kids (and parents) thinking about the best way to solve calculations. The best part is that there is no right or wrong answers. I would encourage you to really dig deep into these scaffolding questions. Your kid’s answers will probably surprise you. If they don’t have an answer, you probably can assume you should work on those strategies more.
The Test Your Knowledge section has both long exercises and short exercises that you can time to evaluate fluency. Each exercise has a little section at the bottom where you can record accuracy and time for each exercise to track progress.
There are 269 flashcards in case your child needs to practice and 2 pages explaining how to use the flashcards and the best ways to practice. These flashcards include a set to write down summaries of the strategies to practice recalling them, too.
You also get a code to download an additional 5 practice pages to print or project via smartboard in a classroom setting.
Of course, an answer section is at the end of the book in case you need it.
First, I really wish that this book skipped the accuracy and time recordings in the Test Your Knowledge section. Timing exercises creates anxiety in a lot of kids.
Second, the flashcards are small, thin strips of paper, and I wish they were bigger and sturdier so I could put them on a ring. These are definitely not a set that I would take with us in the car or to an appointment. I would not take them outside to the park either.
Some of the practice exercises are fairly long, up to 48 or problems. I would probably divide these up into 2 different days just to reduce pressure and anxiety.
This book is great for kids that need to build confidence or are behind in math.
This book delivers on its promise of deep fluency where many other programs fail.
Despite the things I don’t like about this book, there are clear and useful strategies to build math fluency. I highly recommend this book if you are looking to teach a child to understand math and not just imitate it.
How can you get your copy of Building Math Fluency? Check out my Affiliate links!
Looking for whole curriculum packages? Check out Evan-Moor Educational Publishers’ Homeschool Bundles and SAVE 25%!
Looking for more opportunities to build your kid’s brain? Check out my review of Teaching Art to Children to discover the role art plays in critical thinking!