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Drilling Math Facts

Of all the helpful things we can teach our children, learning the simple math facts is right up there near the top. If our children don't learn the addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division tables at least up through 12, we handicap them in their math progress. Without these facts in their immediate recall, their math lessons will be slow and, therefore, very frustrating—both to them and to us, their teachers. Memorizing math facts is to math what spelling is to writing. Without these tools as part of their common knowledge, assignments will be daunting, creating long, drawn-out homework nightmares. No wonder children end up hating math!

Being able to count by multiples can be a good start, but it's not the end goal. The goal is for the student to know all the math facts without having to think about it. They should be able to look at a problem (e.g., 4 x 8) and give the answer immediately. In order to attain this level of instant recall, the facts have to be drilled. Two different methods should be employed: oral drills and written drills.

Oral drills can use flashcards or simple auditory questioning. Below are some links to math flashcards of varying prices and styles. Your children can even drill each other using flashcards.

Written drills are important for speed, precision, and numbers writing. Learning to write numbers correctly, neatly, and quickly is a skill of its own. When our children were in grade school, we used Calculadder (see link below). But math sheet drills with free downloads can be found online as well. We inserted the math drill sheets in plastic sleeves/page protectors, and the children used whiteboard pens. After each timed drill, the plastic sleeves could be wiped off quickly with a dry paper towel, and they were ready to practice it again.

I gave two or three timed drills per day. Each child could work on a drill sheet at his/her own level. With the drills timed at two minutes plus the time needed to check their answers, the total drill time took about ten minutes of our day. The children would continue to work on the same drill day after day until they could complete it accurately within the two minutes allotted. Once they had mastered all the drills at the two-minute level, we would go back and try to get them done in one minute.

By doing timed speed drills, students not only learn math facts, but they also begin to develop strategies for efficiency and speed. In this way, their minds work on problems beyond simple arithmetic. They become self-analyzers. The timer provides an objective competitor to race against as they self-improve. At times the drills could be discouraging, but they also added an element of challenge and fun. Timed drills reveal and develop character: they demand endurance, train how to work under pressure, and provide opportunities for the students to push through discouragement to reach attainable and profitable goals.

As a teacher, you can see which problems they consistently struggle with and create ways to target those specific needs. Drill math facts until they can give the answers without hesitation, until it is a permanent part of their knowledge bank. In the long run, math will become easier and much more fun.

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