Why is fact fluency so important?
Knowing basic number facts is an important skill for students and this skill is identified as such in NCTM’s Principles and Standards for School Mathematics and Focal Points as well as in the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. The landmark report from the National Research Council, Adding It Up: Helping Children Learn Mathematics, lists computational fluency as one of its five intertwined strands of mathematical proficiency. Performing mathematical procedures “flexibly, accurately, efficiently, and appropriately” is only possible when students have a command of number facts.
Everyday tasks such as telling time, measuring, shopping and handling money depend on fluency with number combinations. It is the basis for estimation and more complex computation. This “fact fluency” supports problem solving and helps students judge the reasonableness of their results. It frees the mind to engage in higher order thinking.
What should we consider?
Teachers must determine how best to achieve an appropriate level of fact fluency and how to balance it among the other aspects of a successful mathematics program. Number facts learned purely by rote can be forgotten, or not readily applied effectively in problem solving. Timed tests may create anxiety toward math and lead children to think that mathematics is more about memorizing than learning to think and reason. Effective fluency involves not merely quick recall, but also number sense, operation sense, and an understanding of our number system that allows students to work flexibly with numbers. Students with strong conceptual understanding can derive new number combinations from the ones they know; they have strategies for recalling facts they’ve forgotten.
How will these resources help?
The resources in this collection suggest and demonstrate activities that lead students to develop these skills. They all aim to develop students’ fluency with number facts while strengthening their ability to take advantage of the structure of the number system. The resources provide a variety of representations and approaches that help lay the foundation for the algorithms and build the essential vocabulary.
None of these ideas diminishes the importance of practice. You’ll find more resources in the Classroom Collection, Achieving Fact Fluency, that provide students with ample practice in a context that promotes reasoning and understanding.