Math fact games provide a challenging and fun way to motivate a fourth grade class at becoming highly proficient with their multiplication and division tables. I think most fourth grade teachers would agree that it is frustrating to watch kids fall behind in math because they do not have their multiplication tables memorized. Learning math concepts is confusing enough on its own for some kids. Learning long division becomes a monumental task for those students who have to count and use fingers to multiply sets of numbers that they should have memorized. After a while, most teachers can easily recognize which kids are struggling because they do not have their math fact tables memorized. There is simply no way to teach math facts; it is pure memorization. There are routines, however, that we teachers can put in place to make kids practice and even have fun. The key to a math fact program is consistent practice.
Daily Math Facts Program in School
Last year, my school had a school-wide math fact program in place for fourth and fifth grade students. The program was a simple, 1-minute, daily, math-fact, practice drill consisting of 80 multiplication and/or division problems. The daily math sheets progress in difficulty each time the student successfully completes all of the problems on their sheet within the time one-minute limit. If memory serves me right, the sheets had 80 problems each. Each set was labelled with a letter from the alphabet according to the difficulty of the problems. For example, set A might include only 0s, 1s and 2.s. Set M would include 6’s and 7’s, etc., etc. The beauty of the school-wide program was that we had parent volunteers to grade the papers, make copies, and distribute them to student folders for administering the next day. I didn’t really have to do anything other than to hand out the student folders and administer the 1 minute test at the beginning of each school morning. At the mid-point and end-point of our semester, we would administer 2-minute, 100-problem tests for midterm and final grades. While this made things easy for me, I don’t think it really helped the kids who needed to practice the most. The ones who failed to practice and memorize their math facts each day continued to score poorly on the practice and graded tests. The lettered tests did provide somewhat of a challenge for the students, but it wasn’t really much of a game. It all comes down to practice and those who failed to take the time to do this at home, were the ones who scored poorly on the tests. I’ve included a copy of the 80-problem 2 minute drill here: Math Facts 80 Problem Drill. This PDF file is courtesy of Math Aids Website, which by the way, is an excellent website for generating all kinds of tests and practice sheets for mathematics of all grades. Alternatively, you may also click on the graphic to the right to get a full, printable view of the sheet.
Karate Math Fact Games
This year I decided to make math fact games a daily part of my fourth grade class math routine. Without the luxury of parental volunteers, I attempted to take it upon myself to come up with a similar program, but how could I make it more fun? The idea behind the progression of difficulty with the alphabet got me to thinking, “how can I make it challenging, competitive and fun? Why not use karate belt colors to gauge performance and improvement to challenge and make it more fun for the students? Thus, I began a daily routine of Karate Math Fact Games. The practice sheets are roughly the same as they were at my school from last year. The difference is that instead of alphabet letters, the tests are grades and scored according to karate belt colors. My wife provided me with some cut-out, karate characters and belts. At the beginning of the school year, each student was given the opportunity to color and customize his own karate character and pin them on the cork bulletin board strip outside of our room where everyone could see them. I used Monday through Thursday for administering practice tests and Friday for belt testing each week. After the practice tests, I allowed the kids to grade their own tests and make their own decisions about what belt color they would try for on Fridays. This seemed like a great idea in theory, until it came around to my own consistency with administering the practice tests and grading them on Friday each week. It also became very cumbersome for me to manage, print and keep track of different levels of tests each day. I am sorry to say that I completely lost the desire to keep up with the program by the middle of our first trimester. I feel badly for not doing a better job of keeping up with this particular math fact game because the kids were really enjoying the challenge each day. Sometimes, though, teachers have to re-invent the wheel and focus on what is practical. So, rather than obsess over my guilt, I’ve implemented a new program that is much easier to manage and administer.
Karate Math Facts Version 2
The Karate Math Facts game version 2 consists of a one-size-fits-all math facts sheet of 100 problems. From this point forward, I will have only one math facts practice sheet to print throughout the week. Also, I will use the same, printed sheet for the test on Fridays. The latest version will simply award belt colors based on the percentage grade of the correctly answered facts. Since, I have not started this program, I will do a pre-assessment test to make sure the belt levels and percentages reasonably reflect the ability of the students. I have attached an image as an example here, but I can adjust the levels accordingly. From recent experience, I am pretty certain that there are at least a few students who will be challenged at the yellow belt level color. On the upper end of the scale, there are a small few who should come close to 100%. Not only will this system be easier to manage, but I actually think it will make more logical sense for the students. By having a percentage to aim for, they will be motivated, challenged, and know exactly where they stand with their math fact abilities. In addition to the karate challenge, there are other math fact games that keep the students engaged and striving to be their best.
Timed Classroom Math Fact Challenge
iPad Math Fact Games
Earlier this year I wrote about the value of certain iPad apps to display on the classroom projector. I recommended several iPad Apps for Teachers. One, new iPad app that I have recently started using makes an excellent warm-up routine for getting brains warmed up and ready to go each day. MathEdge X is a very simple, but clever app that not only teaches and trains kids to multiply, but includes a Flash Card component that can be made into the game. Flash Cards can be customized from 1 to 12. For a morning warm-up routine, I choose numbers 1-9. I will display the problems on the board as students take turns, one at a time, answering the flash card prompts. If a student doesn’t know the answer, he must guess after 3 seconds. This is a tremendous way to engage the students and get everyone’s attention at the start of their daily math lesson. Math Edge keeps track of the time until all of the math facts problems are answered. We have 24 students and there are 25 problems, so I answer the first one. If one or more students are missing, we simply begin a new round. So far, our class record is 1 minute and 37 seconds. The really great thing about this game is that it sends a subtle clue to those kids who are struggling that they really need to practice and get better to help their class break the record. So far, there have been no hard feelings among classmates. They are very supportive and encouraging. As a result of this game, I’ve had more than a handful of kids tell me that they went home and practiced their flash cards the night before. Math Edge flashcards is a game that encourages team-work and challenges the class in less than 2 minutes. If you’re wondering how to play this game without an iPad, you can simply use regular flash cards and your own timer. The kids don’t really need to see the problems on the screen, though it does probably help them stay focused.
iTooch Elementary School Suite
Games for Every Grade and Subject
iTooch is a suite of iPhone and/or iPad educational apps that covers all subjects for for every elementary grade. You don’t have to buy the entire suite of iTooch applications. Applications are sold individually for around $3 – $5.00. I’ve purchased the entire suite for Fourth Grade which I think was around $9.99. iTooch math games include pretty much all of the fourth grade curriculum including Numbers and Place Value, Fractions and Decimals, Measurement and Data, Graphs and Statistics, and Geometry. The graphics are very kid-friendly and look great when displayed on the projector. This is an app that looks very much like a game, but in reality is more of an educational learning tool. To get the full benefit of the iTooch Math app in your classroom, you will definitely want to project it to your screen. By the way, if you would like to use your iPhone and iPad on the projector, but don’t have an Apple TV device, there is another, cheaper way: AirServer is a very inexpensive software program, which runs on windows that allows you to display anything that is on your iPhone or iPad on to your projector screen. Remember, though, that whatever messages you get on your phone can be viewed by your students. I would suggest using the Do-Not-Disturb feature while using AirServer or AirPlay in the classroom. Now, back to the App. While iTooch can be used as a math fact game, it does much more. Each section presents a selection of practice problems and then tests. The application can give your classroom a name and keep track of your progress and scores.
Mastering Math Facts
It’s more than a Game
I believe that ultimately, the only way for a child to really master his or her math facts is to practice at home. When I was in fourth grade I remember practicing my flash cards every night with mom, dad, siblings, friends, or whomever was available and willing to help. Mastering memorization of everyday math facts is like anything else: it takes work and consistent practice. Math fact games are not going to replace the need for practice. What these games can and will do, however, is provide the encourage, motivation, and incentive for kids to take math seriously and practice at home. I’ve always believed that educational games are a motivating force. They can help us learn as long as we are willing to do the work necessary to make ourselves better. Daily math fact routines create a lot of work for teachers or volunteer parents, but nobody is really getting excited about them, are they? At the end of the day, we have to ask whether or not these programs are helping the kids who are slow with their math facts or simply patting kids on the back who are already sufficient in this area. I think these games offer an instinctive way for all students in the classroom to improve. At the same time, these games can provide teachers with a more natural and simple method of differentiation within the classroom. Fourth graders don’t always make the connection between individual practice and the payoff with their school work and tests. Math fact games are just one tool in many to help give all kids of varying abilities that extra, motivating push to get faster and better.