Summer is upon us, albeit rainy, and I embrace the break much as every student. However, I must reiterate that learning has to be reinforced over the summer. Without some type of conscious effort to practice and maintain skills, students lose on average 20% of what they learned during the school year. I don’t recommend hours and hours a day. I do recommend something.
Today we’ll look specifically at practicing math facts. Parents are frequently frustrated because their students seem to have no retention of math facts. There are several reasons for this, including not enough practice and no measurable relevance for the student. However, there are things you can do to reinforce these skills.
Flash cards are the most obvious and probably the most common. You do not have to invest large sums of money. Have your child make the flash cards himself: write the problems on 3 x 6 index cards; write the answer on the back. Make 10-15 and practice them for no more than 5 to 10 minutes. For students who are really insecure about math, always make certain at least half of the cards you are practicing with have facts you know your child already knows so some success is ensured.
While flash cards are effective, the students do not always embrace them with enthusiasm. Another way to practice is to modify the card game War. Remove all face cards from the deck and divide into two piles. Decide in advance whether you will be adding, subtracting, or multiplying (division does not work here). Each player turns over a card from his/her pile, and the first to give the correct answer wins the cards. Whoever has the most cards at the end of a set amount of time is the winner. You can do the same thing with dice and introduce a third and even a fourth die as the skills become stronger.
Another really easy way to practice math facts is to make a worksheet with 20-25 problems. These are simple problems like 9 x 9 or 7 + 6. They should not exceed 2 digits because you are teaching the basic facts. Students should time themselves and the goal is to beat their own time. You can use the same problems over and over; simply rearrange them on the page. The advantage of this strategy over "mad minutes" is that the student is always successful. He or she will finish the worksheet in less and less time and memorize the facts in the process.
There are all kinds of websites that deal with math. Type "math facts" into the search line and see what comes up. You should check out the ones you feel comfortable with and decide which one to use with your student.
You should never do this type of drill for more than 5-10 minutes in one sitting. You may link the games to some type of reward: lunch with mom or dad, a favorite meal, chocolate chip cookies, and movie. However, I recommend the reward come at the end of a 1-2 week period as opposed to after every session. The important thing is to vary the activities, keep the practice time short, and have fun.
Next week I’ll talk about comprehension. In the meantime, enjoy the rainy days of summer!