Saturday, 7 June 2014

Frenzy time! No, unfortunately not a feeding one, second best thing: Number Fluency Frenzies

Hi and welcome back! Thanks for still visiting in my very long absence and I promise to be more reliable in the future. It was fantastic to see the blog got so many hits even in my absence and I have heaps of learning to share. Over the last 12 months of teaching, I think I've found my niche and while I do have times when I really love teaching reading (particularly in guided groups and even more so in literature circles) and writing (particularly spelling and grammar), I'm definitely a numeracy girl at heart. I anticipate the direction of this blog will largely start to reflect that passion. So all you literacy hippies LEAVE NOW... no just kidding, please stay!

Topic for this week: Number fluency. You know you need to do this when fingers are used for unsavoury purposes (counting - what were you thinking?) during your grade 3-6 math session and you get a look back that says, 'How should I know?' or 'What planet are we on again?' to the question, "What's 4 + 6?" Or you could run around an oval in the time it takes to produce an answer. AAAAAAARRGH, it's 10! 

There are more five minute games out there to build up speed and number fluency than you could poke a stick at (even if you broke the stick into very little pieces, you probably couldn't poke those little pieces at all of the games - what a stupid analogy), anyway:
  • Rolling two dice and adding the total, or rolling one die and subtracting the roll from a given number (e.g. whatever you roll, take it away from 100), and racing each day to beat the previous day's PB; as the days progress, students are given larger dice 
  • Pulling out two cards and first of the pair to call out the total or difference between the numbers wins (or a version of snap, snapping when numbers that have a difference of one or two are pulled sequentially) 
  • Subtraction or addition races where the teacher writes columns of equations on the board and students 'race' the teacher; particularly useful for teaching strategies like adding 9, i.e. add 10 - 1 
  • Setting up a group of playing cards upright and taking two that equal ten, or taking two that have a difference of a certain number, or taking two and figuring out the multiplication answer and setting up an array of down-facing cards to reflect that equation 
  • Addition warfare: students stand back-to-back, at the count of three they turn with fingers outstretched, first student to calculate the total wins; there's a YouTube video on this one somewhere, I think it's called addition warfare but don't quote me 
  • Buzz or terminator: students go around a circle, following a pattern (e.g. counting by 10s, 2s, subtracting 15), then when a certain category of number comes up (odd, digit 4 in the tens, etc) the student has to say 'buzz' or they're out (not great really, students know their turn isn't coming up till a specific time so tune-out, while the lows go out right away - great...not) 
  • Create numbers that equal the same as the sum of the digits in 593 (or any other random number), e.g. 5 + 9 + 3 = 17, so 395 sum of digits = 17, or 485 sum of digits = 17, etc - credit to my TL for this one

One of the more ongoing warm-ups I use, in addition to some of the above, are 'frenzy' booklets available at (click on addition, subtraction, multiplication and division tabs of the right-hand side and find the 'five minute frenzy' for each operation). They're truly fantastic for building students' speed and you'll be amazed at the progress they'll make in terms of their mental computation if you run these as a warm-up each day across a number of weeks. If you're very organised, it's best to run them in advance of teaching the actual unit. That way, your grade 3-6s already have better number computation once you're trying to teach them the more challenging concepts like renaming or double-digit multiplication. Thus, they're less likely to get stumped by number fluency weakness and more likely to be able to manage the new concepts. The sheets admittedly do look very bland, see below right, but it's one of those things that (although it looks like a dead boring drill to us teachers), for some strange reason, the students really do love it.
It's a fair bundle of photocopying, but if you've got spares at the end of a term or semester, it's worth it. Let's just say that I photocopied en masse last year (when I secretly got hold of the school's general code - if anyone's reading that knows me - totally joking of course).

To set it up as a challenge and increase the motivation even more, I run a daily leader board based on the students who make the biggest gain on their PB each day out of 100. If you're worried about admin time, it's pretty minimal too; I either get them to correct their own answers with a calculator, check any inconsistencies with a buddy and sometimes we don't correct at all and I might just collect up three or four from students who I know may be having accuracy issues and skim through them. For the first few times you do the multiplication, it might be advisable to have a student read out the answers though as this is the only one where I've found some recurring accuracy issues in kids: answer pages are in the same doc on the website - awesome, no mental math for us!

Mostly though, they tend to get the answers right and the main improvement is seen in the speed of their computations as their recall of key facts transfers to automatic to meet the time pressure that the warm-up creates. Counting by ones or skip-counting really just doesn't hack it to score anything above 30.

Then students who have scored a PB that day simply call their scores out to me at the end, and sometimes I record all scores just for extra accountability. Don't worry, cheaters are easily discovered, if you're suspicious or worried, make them date the box or work in a different coloured pen each day and partner check scores. The whole process takes between 7-12 minutes. It's also a golden 5 minutes of absolute silence to work with a student or small group to front-load the upcoming numeracy concept of the day, or to conduct one-to-one reading conferences. Plus, when you think about it, is there really anything more productive you could do than having students answer an average of 50 number facts in five minutes to start your numeracy session, and some higher mathematicians reach up to 200 (I let them do a second box if they finish their first) in five minutes.

Plus, when coming in from recess or lunch, I give them a fifteen second warning and slow-bows just lose their working time, which forces them gain organisation skills pretty quickly. At one stage, when every other grade was milling around killing time coming in after lunch for ten minutes before going back out for Friday arvo assemblies, we could nail one of these and still be out first for assembly too. Winning! For extra differentiation, I often photocopy a version two which I give to the highs, different versions of each frenzy are available on the same website.

Print off a single page of the operation you're studying at the moment, or starting soon, try it out for four warm-ups and see how it goes. 

Stay tuned, posts on what to do prior to teaching multiplication (in the lead-up to a unit), plus addition and subtraction activities to come in the next posts. 

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