Do you or your child still struggle with your basic facts? Does the thought of adding or subtracting two numbers in your head make you cringe? Every teacher knows someone who still counts on his/her fingers, or guesses when asked to calculate a simple addition or subtraction question. But it doesn’t have to be that way … not once you understand a simple 3-step approach to mastering your basic facts.
Just practice, right? Wrong!
Have you ever tried to memorize something you din’t understand? It’s not only hard, it can seem impossible! That’s why the first step in mastering your facts is:
1. “Develop a strong understanding of number relationships.”
Or put another way, learn how to use friendly numbers (like tens). Let’s take the following example. Say you were asked to add 8+3. While you may not know the answer, you might know a related fact … such as 8+2=10. How does this help? An efficient strategy might be to think, “8 plus 2 equals 10, and one more is 11.” (8+2+1=11) By breaking the 3 into smaller parts (3=2+1), it could be combined with the 8 to make it easier to add.
It works with larger numbers too: Take 15 + 8. You might think, “Hmmm … I know that 15 plus 5 equals 20. Since 8 is only 3 more than 5, 15 + 8 is the same as 15 + 5 + 3, or 20 + 3 which is 23.” The secret is starting with what you know.
The next strategy is:
2. “Find a fact retrieval strategy that works for YOU.”
When I went to school most of my teachers taught the class one way to do something. However, now as a teacher myself, I realize that there are often MANY ways to get the same answer. The key is helping kids find the strategy that makes sense or works for them. In the case of trying to recall facts, it might include:
Looking for ways to “make tens” (like in the previous example).
Learning your “doubles facts” (2+2, 3+3, 4+4, etc.)
Using related facts (knowing 3×3=9, so 4×3=9+3 more)
Only NOW, once there is a better understanding of these facts is it time to:
3. “Provide time to practice the use and selection of strategies.”
Use flashcards or computer programs to either commit these facts to memory, or provide practice in selecting the appropriate retrieval strategy, and then using it to solve the problem.
While some might say the need for students to memorize these facts is no longer important in our computerized society, I would argue that computers and calculators do not diminish the importance of basic fact mastery. After all, I use this knowledge every day to estimate amounts, and even count my change at the store.
So if your child is struggling to master their basic facts, resist the urge to run straight to the flashcards. First, ensure they understand how numbers work and can be re-distributed. Find strategies that make sense to THEM (ask their teachers for help if necessary), and then give them some time practice. After all, Math doesn’t have to be nearly as scary or frustrating as it was for some of us.
About the author
An award-winning educator and Parenting & Youth Coach, Rob Stringer BA, BEd, CPC has spent almost two decades helping kids, teens, and adults meet with success, and live lives they LOVE! Although based outside of Toronto, Rob’s coaching practice is global with teen and adult clients around the world.
Ready to give your child a head start on success? Check out Rob’s coaching programs and workshops for parents and youth. Visit www.YouthCoachCanada.com or call 905.515.9822.