So, hey! A few nights ago, in the shower*, I came up with a bunch of ideas that I wanted to write about and I actually wrote them down. This is a small miracle in and of itself, so I'm not going to harp on the fact that one of the topics on the list is a total mystery to me. With luck I'll remember what it was I wanted to say.
I do remember this one, though, so I thought I'd start here. Uh, this is turning out longer than I thought, so if you'd like to just skip to the games, scroll down a bit. I won't be offended†.
It starts with a common complaint I hear from parents and from teachers, too: kids don't memorize their math facts anymore! They don't do flash cards or mad minutes or "around the world" (which is a dreadful game) and it's all about just "feeling good about doing math!" Sheesh. What a bunch of whiny snowflake children. When we were kids, we had to memorize our math facts! And walk uphill both ways to school.
I will kindly request that you stop it. Please. Memorizing without understanding is pretty much useless. If you don't get how math works, or how to apply it, all that memorization isn't going to help you. If you're like a lot of people, you've forgotten a lot of it by now anyway. And even though, yes, you DO have a calculator with you all the time, if you don't know what numbers to put in, and what operations to choose, math facts aren't going to help you.
Common Core, despite its detractors (who I'm not going to link to because they don't deserve any more traffic than they get) is a pretty good way to teach math**. It's slower than the way we learned, but taught well with the time kids need to understand it, it's a better way. Common Core focuses on understanding how numbers work, what patterns exist in numbers and operations, and figuring out the relationships between all kinds of numbers. The plan is that developing this understanding and being immersed in math will lead students to knowing math facts.
This is where it kind of falls apart. With Common Core, students do seem to come out with this deeper understanding, and they have multiple strategies for solving problems (which is incredibly important) but many are still pretty slow on just knowing their math facts. And after a point, around grade 5, this starts to really become a problem.
Kids who have not internalized the patterns inherent in times and addition tables start to struggle, a lot, to understand fractions and later, algebra. If an equation has a 84 and a 7, a child who has a real understanding of how times tables work should immediately figure out that there is a 12 in that problem somewhere. Students who don't take much longer, tediously pounding out guesses or trying to apply an algorithm they don't really understand (and thus can't fix if they bungle the formula.)
You could think of it like this: my daughter knows how to spell and is familiar with a QWERTY keyboard. She mostly sorta knows where the keys are. But to sit and type out her ideas is tediously slow because the positions of the letters aren't just part of her. She still has to hunt and peck, which makes creative writing, a task she enjoys, into a slog. She understands how to make the words, but she lacks fluency.
That's where the games come in. Fluency games.
GAMES. Not flashcards or speed races that pit kids against each other (Hey! Let's all give kids more reasons to hate the gifted girl and pity the slow thinker! No.)
All three of these games improve mental-math fluency, are level-able and most of all, are fun. I encourage students to challenge themselves, not their neighbor, and focus on their own improvement.
Kakooma: 18 levels each with +, x, negative numbers, and fractions. Played solo. Timed. I don't recommend the app or the "pretty" version of the game, because it crashes.
Starting with addition: In each box (or hex, octagon, etc.) there are several numbers. Two will add up to a 3rd number. Click on it. Once you've solved all the puzzles at the edges, the answers will create a 2nd-level Kakooma, and you need to find which two of those add up to a 3rd.
Multiplication is similar, except that two numbers will multiply to a 3rd. For the 2nd level, it becomes an addition Kakooma.
Negatives is just addition, but it throws negative numbers into the mix. Fractions is also addition, but with mixed fractions.
KRYPTO: Level-able by increasing or decreasing the number values available, eg. 1 - 10, 1- 18, 1 - 25. Playable solo or with an entire class.
You can play this with a deck of cards, a set of "everything math" cards, or with a traditional krypto deck. If you'd like to print your own, here's a set. You lay out 5 cards in a row, and then a 6th card as the "target." Players use all 5 numbers with +, - x and / to create an equation to reach the target.
For younger students, you can also level it by having students create an equation out of 3 or 4 of the cards. For older students, require them to correctly write out the single equation that uses all 5 numbers to reach the target. (requires an understanding of PEMDAS.)
KenKen: This game is a little different because it requires both fact fluency and logic. Think sudoku with math facts thrown in. It's a lot to explain, and the website does it better than I do, so just check out the link. There are a multitude of good apps, too. Goes from super-easy 3x3 to fiendishly difficult 9x9. For a gazillion printable ones, look here: Crazy Dad Inky Puzzles.
Try the games. They're fun! And if you're feeling brave, challenge your kid to beat you at them.
*Yeah, you probably didn't need to know that, but whatever, I already wrote about it, so there it is.
**It's not perfect, but that's another post.
† I'm well aware that this entire post could have been 10 words long. But I like to write, too, and I do know where all the letters are.