Data and Decision Making

My school is about to implement some sort of math facts fluency standards. This is probably a good thing when the majority of my students coming into the year had count up or down on their fingers when they are doing addition and subtraction. Not to mention 5th graders who still add 6 eight times to figure out 6 x 8. Yes, they figure out what 6 x 8 =, but it shouldn’t have to be that heard. At least in my opinion, it shouldn’t be. There is also research that shows when students have to apply brain power to figuring out basic facts, they miss out on higher level concepts.

Just saying that facts fluency should be part of the grade and handing out timed tests that have 150 problems is NOT the way to go about doing this. We need to figure out quite a few things before jumping in blind. Some questions I have in my head are:

  1. What is considered an acceptable percent correct?  80%?  90%?  95%?
  2. How many facts should a student be able to perform in the given time?
  3. How does this lend itself to traditional grades?  Does it at all?
  4. How do you test for fluency?
  5. How often do you test?

Those questions are off the top of my head and I’m sure there are other issues.

My thoughts to the questions:

1.  90% seems right to me.  If a student is doing this from memory and is missing more than 10%, they don’t know the facts.  Right?

2.  This is a tricky question and one which I will get into more below.  I’m pushing for measuring it in facts per minute.  Some teachers prefer the marathon facts quizzes of 200 problems while others prefer a test of 50.  I lean to the side of 50 but have another reason for doing it per minute. (Question 4)

3.  No clue how this can fit into a traditional grading scale.  I’m not even sure it should be included in the grades, but many teachers feel that if it isn’t a grade the parents won’t support it at home.

4.  My class uses That Quiz to practice our facts.  Beautiful and simple set up.  I can control the time, range, process, and the number of problems allowed.  Then, it gives me a percent correct and shows any problems missed.  Last, the kids love it.  Compare this with a pencil and paper with 150 problems on it, which would you choose?  Even better, I don’t have to grade through 2,000 simple facts to see how my students are performing. It tells them and me immediately.

5.  Using That Quiz, I let them test anytime they can.  I don’t have to grade any of them, only record their scores on my spreadsheet.  Test all day, you’ll learn them eventually.

Coming together as a staff to discuss this, we’ll get 25-30 different responses to these questions.  This is where data needs to come into play.  Looking around briefly online, I honestly couldn’t find a lot of information.  I found a few teacher sites where people said students should be able to do 90 problems in 2 minutes or 200 problems in 5 minutes.  Their reasoning always seemed to be “that’s how I’ve always done it”.  In an effort avoid this, I did some quick data collection with my students.

Giving my students two minutes to complete as many problems as they could, I recorded the number of facts correctly answered.  I tested 4 times total, the first two tests were multiplication facts 0-9.  For the last two tests, the students picked their best fact.

_of_facts_correct_in_2_min_And the mean and median of the results:

class_averagesNow, what does this information mean?  My class averaged just short of 50 problems in 2 minutes when testing all facts.  On the strongest fact, our averages rose to just above 70.

*Two interesting results:  One student actually scored higher on the mixed than on best fact.  Nothing big, this student had 4 of the top 6 scores.  The other interesting result was “student m”, had one of the lowest results on the 2nd mixed test (27) and the 5th highest on the best fact test (99).

I would say 70 accurate responses in 2 minutes is very fluent.  So, 35 problems per minute?  Might be a touch too high, but I wouldn’t go much lower.

I don’t know if this says much of anything, but I’m going to continue to track this for the rest of the semester and see what comes out of it.   Finally, hopefully this will help in our discussion on implementing facts testing.


Newton’s Laws and Discovery

Beginning our unit on Newton’s Laws and force this semester, I made a pledge to myself to make sure my students are involved with the unit. I took a quote from the Science Teacher blog’s sidebar:

Science is not about content–the content is ephemeral, it’s the process that matters.

The first step was getting students to gather what they already know about the world and apply it the principles we are covering. First topic was gravity and friction’s role in motion. A lab was set up where the students had a marble, file folder, and tape with the objective of making the marble roll the farthest (no throwing or other outside force allowed, we’ll get to that in simple machines). The lab wasn’t perfect, we completely whiffed on what I was hoping to accomplish. However, we made a new discovery (for us) and the students were more creative than I have seen them all year. A big step in the right direction. Two of the sets are below, guess what we discovered?


Does THIS help my students? I hope so…

The day before any break is always a tricky day for teachers. Some handle these days by showing movies, some keep on plowing through material, some reviewing previous material, and some enrich or extend the material. Hopefully the following activities have educational benefits. If not, at least I’m not showing a movie.

The National Library of Virtual Manipulatives gave us our activity for math. Ladybug Mazes from the geometry section. The Ladybug Maze is really a very simple programming exercise. A ladybug has to travel through a maze and you decide where it goes by telling it to go forwards or backwards and when to turn.


MOST (I will get to this at the end of the post) of the students loved it. That might not be the most important thing, but it does count.

Math was taken care of, now what to do with science? What did we do?

Fantastic Contraption (Disclaimer: I can’t click on that link and leave the site within 30 minutes.)


For those unfamiliar with this game, you have to move the pink wheel on the left to the big pink square on the right. Your tools are wheels that turn both ways and axles. Get as creative as you want in solving the puzzles, but some can be solved in very elementary ways. My science students absolutely loved this today. Even had two teachers say “I don’t know what you did in science today, but the students loved it”. At least I have somebody convinced.

Earlier I had mentioned that most of my students loved the maze activity, any guesses on the two students that did not enjoy it all? My two highest achieving students in math. No lie. They know their math facts from any direction. They have learned anything new I have taught this year. They are also terrified of getting the wrong answer. After seeing their disgusted reaction with this activity, I couldn’t help but think of the Red/Green Knowledge post from dy/dan. These two students are red knowledge All-Stars. But, they were so distraught after not having the answer right away, they could not figure out the mistakes in their program. Some of my lower achieving students had zero problems with the maze, it was a video game to them. They had no problems seeing where the ladybug needed to go and how to get it there.

Result: Pushed my top students out of their comfort zone and allowed some of my lower achieving students a chance to shine. Success, right?