Thursday, September 30, 2010

Why Math Fact Fluency?

What is Math Fact Fluency? 

SkillsTutor Math Fact Fluency is an on-line instructional and practice aide that helps students achieve automaticity in the basic facts of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Because it is internet-based, students can practice at home or at school and all work is recorded and viewable by the teacher. 

Math Fact Fluency is modern, personalized and fully adaptive. Based on students’ actual performance, it provides practice where it helps most. It tracks multiple practice sessions and determines which facts are mastered. A fact is mastered when it is performed correctly and within a certain time threshold multiple times. Reports that provide an overview of each student’s performance on all math facts are handy for Parent Teacher conferences, end-of-quarter reports, etc. 

Math Fact Fluency is not intended to teach conceptual understanding of basic math facts. It is a product intended to help students instantly recall basic facts from long-term memory. 

Salend (1994) recommended that new math concepts be introduced through everyday situations as opposed to worksheets. With everyday situations as motivators, students are more likely to recognize the importance and relevance of a concept. Carpenter, Fennema, Peterson, Chiang & Loef (1989) further this. Contextualizing instruction can make seemingly mundane computation exercises fascinating to children. In response to this, at the beginning of each lesson is an authentic, “real-world” scenario in which a student would actually use basic math facts. 

The Call for Math Fact Fluency 

Math Fact Fluency was designed in response to the National Council of Teach ers of Mathematics’ (NCTM) Curriculum Focal Points, which outlines three key skills each student should master at each grade level. In each of grades 1 through 4, the Focal Points define critical skills in all four basic operations, including the ability to instantly recall those basic facts. 

The National Math Panel was created in 2006. Supporting much of the research that has existed regarding automaticity of basic facts, the Panel also found that automatic recall of facts is paramount to student success in mathematics: 

A focused, coherent progression of mathematics learning, with an emphasis on proficiency with key topics, should become the norm in elementary and middle school mathematics curricula...By the term “proficiency,” the Panel means that students should understand key concepts, achieve automaticity as appropriate (e.g., with addition and related subtraction facts), develop flexible, accurate, and automatic execution of the standard algorithms, and use these competencies to solve problems… 

Computational proficiency with whole number operations is dependent on sufficient and appropriate practice to develop automatic recall of addi tion and related subtraction facts, and of multiplication and related division facts.... It also requires a solid understanding of core concepts, such as the commutative, distributive, and associative properties.” 

Learning and Memory 

The rationale behind our approach to fact memorization is derived from the in formation processing model of the human brain. It is familiar to most people in the concepts of short-term memory (i.e., working memory) and long-term memory. 

When first exposed to a new fact, the data is called into working memory. The Oxford Dictionary defines working memory as “temporary storage of information while one is working with it or attending to it.” Working memory has limited storage capacity, with material being retained only as long as it is being consciously practiced. 

Conversely, long-term memory is intended to store information for a long pe riod of time. A study by Semb, Ellis & Araujo (1993) showed content studied for four months or eleven months will be well-retained for about one year after the last practice, with most of the content forgotten by end of three or four years without further practice. Bahrick (1984) and Bahrick & Hall (1991) found that if material is studied for three or four years, the information may be retained for as long as 50 years after the last practice. The key component in the long-term retention in the Bahrick study is the additional practice completed by the student. 

There are two memory systems in long-term memory: declarative knowledge and procedural knowledge. Declarative knowledge can be thought of as “know ing that,” and procedural knowledge can be thought of as “knowing how.” If a student is asked, “What is 8 x 7,” the difference lies between responding imme diately with “56” (declarative), or thinking “8 groups of 7 items” (procedural). When a student is able to quickly and accurately retrieve the answer to a math fact, the student has a strong declarative knowledge system for that fact. 

With Math Fact Fluency, students practice basic number facts over many sessions to build and reinforce their declarative understanding of those facts. It is through repeated exposure that math facts are stored and automatically recalled. Facts are considered memorized only when they can be recalled instantly.