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Filtering by Tag: common core

Math Fact Fluency is Essential

Kerri Milyko, Ph.D. BCBA

In nearly all of my parent meetings, I hear about Common Core.  My response attempts to educate parents between the difference between the standards themselves and the curricula various publishing companies create that align to those standards.  The methods of each curriculum may vary.  Today, I will not be speaking about the standards themselves – that debate is only solved if you have the solution to poverty.  Instead, I am going to address some methods the new curricula are teaching.

One of the standards for 2nd grade simply states, “Fluently add and subtract within 20 using mental strategies.  By end of Grade 2, know from memory all sums of two one-digit numbers.”  I assume no one has any qualms with this.  Other 2nd grade math standards simply state that the students should be able to use place value while adding/subtracting as well.  So, if Sally knows that 2 + 3 = 5, she should be able to extrapolate that 20 + 3 = 23, 20 + 30 = 50, and so on.  However, it is the funky problems like the above image that leave parents frustrated.  We have seen these examples floating around the Internet.  Don’t blame the standard.  Blame the curriculum.

New curricula are aimed more at the discovery process.  This shift stems from studies in developmental psychology where children interact with novel toys (e.g., Bonawitz, Shafto, Gweon, Goodman, Spelke, & Schultz, 2011).  Those children who were not directly taught how to play with the toy used the toy in more creative ways than those children who were given a rule.  However, math is not a toy – there is a clear end result.  For example, 32-12 will always equal 20.  The process by which individuals reach that answer may be different; however, the answer is always 20.  This is unlike the toy study where the end result (i.e., function of the toy) could vary.  These curricula, focused on creativity and discovery, encourage students to find different ways to seek out the answer.  The above example is just one method.  Others may use the traditional algorithm 99% of us learned how to use.  Others, may subtract 10 two times to reach 12. 

The problem with this format is that many kids lack number sense.  They lack the mathematical equivalent to phonics where they can pictures smaller numbers making up larger numbers and the relationship between them all.  Further, these kids will create unique but erroneous rules to reach the answer.  I had one student work on a problem like 31-9.  She said she found the answer (which is 22), by subtracting the 1 from the 3 and then writing it twice.  Yup – that method will give you 22.  However, that rule does not extend to 32-9 and other problems. 

I have also witnessed teachers and trainers say that student no longer need to quickly know their math facts since everyone is walking around with smart phones with calculators on their hips.   Do I need to even address why this is a silly statement?  I can’t tell you how many middle and high school students I have worked with who either don’t understand how to solve a simple equation or consistently solve it incorrectly because of the lack of simple math fact fluency.

A recently published neurological study shows that math fluency creates new connections to the hippocampus, the memory region of the brain (Qin, Chao, Chen, Rosenberg-Lee, Geary, & Menon, 2014).  Therefore, as students gain math fact proficiency, new pathways are created allowing for ease in retrieval.  The authors of the study state that “If your brain doesn't have to work as hard on simple maths, it has more working memory free to process the teacher's brand-new lesson on more complex math,” which is a observation my colleagues and I have been stating for years.

Therefore, if we truly focus on building math fact fluency, it can make permanent changes to how students think.  Further, it will allow them, given their established foundation, to see how they can extrapolate these numbers and use other methods (like image above) to reach the same conclusion.  Start with the rule; then, focus on deriving more creative methods using place value and number sense.

To help do this at home, Rocket Math came out with a free app a few months ago to build math fact fluency.  It is pretty good.  For the younger kiddos, Endless Numbers incorporate not only number recognition but also counting, skip counting, place value, and addition to start a foundation for number sense.  These are just two examples in a sea of education apps.  For those students who struggle with number sense and math facts using apps, call us.  We would love to help!




Preparing for School - More than you likely expect

Kerri Milyko, Ph.D. BCBA

No – I’m not talking about preparing your student to go back to school.  This blog has addressed that subject repeatedly.  I’m talking about getting your very little one ready for school – the one who isn’t in Kindergarten yet (or even pre-K).

Too often, I see children in Kindergarten and beginning 1st grade who are already behind.  Even stellar pre-K programs do not necessarily equip students for the academic rigor of the following school year.  It is up to the parents to provide the extra exposure and practice for the student to be ready for Kindergarten or 1st grade.  Many times, students fall behind early just because parents are unaware of the expectations of students starting school.  This is the group we are addressing in this month’s blog.  (This does not include those students who may need professional direct instruction due to a significant deficit or possible learning disability).

Long gone are the days when Kindergarten focused simply on letter people, sharing, listening to the teacher, and sensory play.  With the incorporation of Common Core, many states including Florida have new, higher academic standards for K-3 grades.  For public school, students should be able to read short vowel words and Doltch pre-primer and primer sight words by the end of Kindergarten.  First grade will briefly revisit short vowel words, but will quickly target words with long vowels, consonant blends/digraphs, and regular vowel combinations at a minimum (a simple Google search will result in some decent practice lists).  Although these are state standards, variance still exists across schools – even public schools.  I visited a public Kindergarten class in New Tampa targeting second-grade phonetic words.   Private schools tend to be even more rigorous than public schools.  Various private schools in Tampa expect students to be proficient phonetic readers by mid-first grade!

Whether or not you agree with the new standards or feel that too much is being expected too early from your student, this is the new culture in private, public, and even charter schools (who are held to the same standards as public school or they lose their charter).  Unless you plan on homeschooling, which is a great option for some families, your student may run the risk of being held back, placed in the lower reading group, or placed in special education if you do not incorporate focused reading practice at home.

To equip yourself, I encourage you to read the standards.  They can be found at  You can be a better support to both your future student and his/her teacher by being aware of the expectations.  If you find that you serve better as a parent than a teacher, call us.  We would love to help!