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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Math Facts Baseball

In two weeks, twenty-some bright and shiny faces will appear at the door of my fourth grade classroom, full of anticipation (and sadly, a little rusty due to the long summer vacation). 

Their teacher will be waiting with open arms, knowing that they will soon be hard at work on the dreaded long multiplication algorithm, closely followed by long division. Math Facts Baseball will get them ready!

I developed this game many years ago . . . and have used it every year since. Some of my fellow fourth grade teachers have also picked it up, and it's become a classroom staple for all of us.

The game is relatively simple. Innings can occur every week or every other day, depending on your class's proficiency with the facts. First, students are divided into two teams. Then all players take four 36-fact timed tests (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division). After the tests are graded, each team lines up to "bat." If a player has passed one test with 100%, he/she gets a single; two tests, a double; three, a triple; or four, a home run. No stealing is allowed, only forced runs. 

As our innings progress, the time for the tests gets shorter. We start with three minutes per test. You might be thinking, "Three minutes for a 36-problem test! That's too long!" Believe me, it's not too long for students coming off of summer vacation. They are really rusty! After three innings, we go down to two minutes, and for the final three innings, they only get one minute per test.

This game is motivational and fun, but like any other facts testing method, it can't be used in isolation. By third or fourth grade, most students know their addition and subtraction facts reasonably well. And once they know their multiplication facts, division easily follows. For these reasons, multiplication facts must be emphasized before and between innings of Math Facts Baseball.

It took me decades to get to this point, but I now believe that learning multiplication facts is easy. And I think that almost all fourth graders can do it. In the end, it all boils down to learning three facts. Here's why:

There are exactly 36 multiplication facts for factors of two through nine:
2x2, 2x3, 2x4, 2x5, 2x6, 2x7, 2x8, 2x9
3x3, 3x4, 3x5, 3x6, 3x7, 3x8, 3x9
4x4, 4x5, 4x6, 4x7, 4x8, 4x9
5x5, 5x6, 5x7, 5x8, 5x9
6x6, 6x7, 6x8, 6x9
7x7, 7x8, 7x9
8x8, 8x9

Most kids in intermediate grades know their twos and fives. If you subtract facts with factors of two or five, you're left with 21 facts.

Simple processes like skip counting make learning threes and fours relatively easy. Now you're left with ten facts. 

It's time to tackle the nines. Since nine is just one less than ten, a funny thing happens when you multiply by nine: the tens place goes up by one, and the ones place goes down by one. Have you ever noticed that the tens place is one less than the number you're multiplying and that the sum of the two digits always equals nine? This can be used to help students learn their nines. (For example: 3 x 9 = 27. See how 2 is one less than 3, and 2 + 7 = 9?) Guess what? Only six facts left.

Six facts. Seriously. If a student knows his twos, threes, fours, fives, and nines, only six facts remain.

Two of those can be learned by rhyming. Six times six is thirty-six, and six times eight is forty eight.

One more can be learned through a sequence: 5-6-7-8 (or 56 = 7 x 8). Three facts left. 

It's time to memorize. 6 x 7 = 42. 7 x 7 = 49. 8 x 8 = 64. That's it. Done!

If you'd like to present this idea to students, parents, or disbelieving colleagues, try this video from Math Playground. It explains it well.

Two programs on powerfully support our quest toward mastery. Quick Flash II ensures that each student knows all fact sets. Fact Navigator generates a 36-question test then records time and accuracy. (Click Check Your Progress with Quiz then on 9x9.) Because the student can self-monitor and take the test over and over again, it improves accuracy and fluency better than anything I've ever used. I highly recommend using these free programs!

As those bright and shiny faces appear at my classroom door, I feel confident that each and every one of them can and will master their facts in five short weeks. Strategic teaching of 36 facts, free products from, and Math Facts Baseball will make it happen.

Batter up!