My Fav Friday: Mental Math

Like a lot of math teachers, I struggle with how much my kids need to be able to recall basic facts. It doesn’t relate to understanding, it doesn’t tie into any concept and yet its key in how well my students can do problems. If we’re trying to, say, find areas, and none of my students know what 8 x 7 is, need to pull out their calculator, etc etc we aren’t learning very effectively. And in my lowest classes, the basic facts they don’t know aren’t even multiplication. My students didn’t even know addition. 5 + 2? Let me grab my other hand…

So I took a page from a teacher at another school in our network and started Mental Math. The past two years I taught double period classes, perfect for Mental Math. This year all my periods are single, so I don’t have that much time–Mental Math takes four minutes tops a day, but that four minutes adds up. I didn’t want to do it just occasionally so I made the call not do it this year*.

Every day after the opener, the students get whichever round they are on. The first round is multiplication (2x up to 12x), then there are four more rounds, outlined below.

Multiplication round:

Everyone gets a quarter sheet with ____ X ____ = _____ and a spot for their name at the top. They write down whichever number they are on all the way down the left hand column. When we start, I call off a random sequence of 1-12, about five seconds  apart. They write down the number, the answer, and are hopefully ready to go when the next number comes. They have about 15 seconds at the end to wrap up loose ends (like if they had to come back to 7 x 12 or something).

Other rounds:

Once you pass multiplication, you get a sheet that is folded over slightly offset, so you can still see the name blank and the sheets title & number. You write your name, make sure its the right round, and when I say go you’re off. No calculators.

I set a timer for three minutes (bonus minute if everyone has their homework today!) and count down the last ten seconds (quietly and non-urgently). Pencils down, pass them in.

WonderTeacher would grade every sheet, make corrections and return them. Average teacher separates out who even finished, only grades completed ones, and as soon as something’s wrong I stop grading (unless you are on one of several hard ones where I secretly allow you to pass with one wrong). Everything right, you pass. Not? Try again tomorrow!

My kids mostly liked it, and they LOVED the sense of accomplishment from passing. I know other teachers who mercy-passed kids, but I don’t see the point.

Here are the rounds I use (my personal sheet, so its a little shorthand-y):


Round 1: Basic Operations

Round 2: Integers & Fractions

Round 3: Fractions, decimals & Percents

Round 4: Expressions and properties; Review

x Add single digit (50) Divide (50) Subtracting fractions (Like D) Combine like terms
2 Add single digit (50) Add integers (56) Adding fractions (unlike D) Simplify with distributive
3 Add Regrouping 2 digit (36) Add & subtract integers (33) Subtracting fractions (unlike D) Integers
4 Add Regrouping 3 digit (25) Multiply integers (40) +- fractions Simplify with distributive inc. negatives
5 Subtract single digits (50) Add & subtract integers (33) Fraction to decimal (out of 100) Exponents with integers
6 Subtract some 2 digit (50) Add 2-digit integers (20) Fraction to decimal (out of common total) Multiplication up to 12’s
7 Subtract both 2 digit no borrowing (15) Mixed Ops integers (28) Decimal to %; % to decimal, less than 100 Order ops
8 Subtract both 2 digit/borrowing (10) Mixed Ops integers (28) Decimal to %; % to decimal, more than 100 Factor terms out
9 Multiply up to 10s (50) Simplify fractions Common fraction to decimal Order ops with parentheses
10 Multiply up to 10s (60) Equivalent fractions Compare fractions Integers
11 Multiply up to 12s (50) Multiply fractions LCD Exponents and roots
12 Divide up to 12 (22) Adding fractions (like D) Mixed numbers Graph in SI form

If people are interested in hearing more about how this works, I’d be happy to write it up. It involves a grid with magnets, student assistants, and other fun stuff, but once you set it up, it isn’t much work and was very helpful for my students.

Do you do any kind of quick fluency practice? I’d love to add something brief to my

*Mostly. We’re doing slope cards right now in my remedial class. 12 cards that get slightly harder to give them practice at finding slope (and using a formula and integers and reducing). They couldn’t seem to get slope at all, so this was a few-week trial that is going well but ending in a week.