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What is Math Fluency?

What is Math Fluency?

Math fluency is a topic that has startled students and teachers for a long time. Unlike other teaching methods math fluency plays a fundamental role in enhancing a student’s math ability and performance. Simply put, math fluency is the ability to quickly and accurately recall math facts and concepts.

There are many common misconceptions about math fluency; however, this article will clarify them. We will examine what math fluency is? Why is it important? How to teach math fluency and also look at the common misconceptions about math fluency.

Defining Math Fluency

Math fluency helps students think faster, allowing them to tackle complex problems and enabling them to focus their attention on reasoning on questions. When a student is math fluent, he can recall math facts and concepts without much thinking. Math fluency enhances a student’s flexibility of thought, the efficiency of their responses to math problems, number sense, and accuracy of their answers. 

There are differing opinions about math fluency. Some believe that students are expected to memorize basic math facts regardless of their math abilities and should be given math fact fluency assessments. Others believe that students need to focus their attention on higher-level math skills instead of math fact practice. Nevertheless, educational experts believe that students should not undermine their computational ability to quickly and accurately compute the answer to a given number sentence. 

The path to math fluency involves three stages. The first requires skill acquisition; at this early stage, a student must know how a solution to a math problem is formed. Elementary students need lots of hands-on experience putting groups together to add numbers or taking away to subtract. Visual aids play a vital role at this stage; that’s why there are pictures on primary-level math worksheets. Once students have a strong math foundation, math fluency transitions into the second stage, which is fluency building. At this stage, students begin to memorize their facts as a result of repeated practice. This occurs through exposure to math at the primary level. 

For other students, the process is more rigorous; they may need to practice math tricks or mnemonics. Simply spending 10-15 minutes each day can improve their math skills. The final stage of math fluency involves application; here, students move from accurate to automatic problem-solving. Students can apply the knowledge they learned to solve complex math problems.


Why is Math Fluency Important?


Research has shown that there are many benefits to being math fluent. Let us consider three advantages of math fluency and see why they are essential. 

  1. Math fluency reduces cognitive load

We have limited cognitive capacity at any given moment; simply put, we work within the limits of our brain power. For example, a math word problem requires a student to read the problem first, break down the information and then solve, compute and identify the solution. All this requires energy. The process becomes more complicated when the problem has several steps. Math fluency doesn’t make problems easier; instead, it reduces the number of cognitive resources to tackle the computation process. 


  1. Makes solving tests faster

Many math tests and exams involve multiple choice answers. Such practice tests usually ask students to pick the correct answer within an explanation. If there are three options, two of the answers will have errors, or they might all have errors.  In this case, students who have developed their math fluency know their facts; solving these problems is simple and requires little time and mental effort.


  1. Being proficient with math facts reduces frustration

Students with a strong math foundation can accomplish several mathematical feats with ease. For example, elementary school students were taught math computation using number lines, adding on, skip counting, and other techniques. Those strategies are short-term bridges to solving bigger math computational problems.


How to Teach Math Fluency


Teachers can teach math fluency through conceptual learning; this involves teaching the meaning of operations so that students can thoroughly learn basic math. Conceptual teaching begins at primary school. It involves learning manipulatives and models like geometry builder sets, ten frame sets, teaching cash registers, and measuring spoons and geoboards. These manipulatives teach students to count time, measure, and much more. 

The fact strategy teaching stage occurs in the middle years; students are taught to count on doubles. They are also given opportunities to practice and apply math strategies. In turn, students are given a chance to explain the math and computation strategies they used and justify their responses. Finally, the memorization of basic math facts is included; this involves practicing math problems daily. At this stage, students should be able to recall a fact within two seconds. 


Misconceptions About Math Fluency


A common misconception about math fluency is that it is best assessed through timed tests. That is incorrect; on the contrary, timed tests provide limited information about the strategies students use. They also do not explain how flexibly students used their computational strategies. It also sends the wrong message to students; speed math is not always the best option. It is important to explore strategies rather than speed. Research has shown that timed tests hurt students and their progress toward being fluent in math facts. 

Another common misconception is that the best way to teach math fluency is to drill facts. Fact drills are useless unless students have a developed understanding of the concept and strategies used. To enhance math fluency, math games are practical tools in helping students master math facts easily. Finally, a widespread misconception is that math fact fluency is all about memorizing facts. Math fact fluency focuses on understanding concepts and applying strategies; fluency will only come after a student masters those two factors. 


OMC Helps Students Become Math Fluent


The Online Math Center tutors work collaboratively and individually with each student to enhance their math. Students will learn and develop quick recall and math automaticity skills. They will have an easier time tackling more advanced math problems like equations and fractions. Contact us now to learn more or schedule an appointment; we will be happy to assist you!

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