Q:

My second-grader is a good student, but she has a problem with "Minute Math Drills." Students in her class are given 50 basic addition fact problems and asked to complete them in 3 minutes. She has become very unhappy and uptight because she can't complete the problems this fast. Is there any benefit to this type of quiz? How can I help her speed up? -- Wondering

A:

Children need to be able to recall basic facts quickly and automatically. If they can't, they'll have problems later on because they'll have to depend on counting strategies to get the right answer when they should be concentrating on learning more advanced math.

By the end of second grade, most students should have automatic recall of not only the addition facts but also the subtraction facts. Mastery of a fact means giving the response in less than 3 seconds or 30 correct per minute. However, this is for an oral response, more time may be needed by young children, especially those who have difficulty writing. Being able to complete 50 problems in 3 minutes is definitely a reasonable goal.

Have your daughter bring home a copy of the math quiz. Then check to see how fast she can respond orally. If she can easily answer the questions within the allotted time, you'll know that the problem lies with her inability to write numbers quickly. If so, talk with the teacher about ways you can help your child improve her number-writing skills.

The secret to learning to add automatically is to help your child develop a strategy for each particular collection of facts. Don't confine teaching a strategy to just flash cards; use dice, spinners, coins, markers and simple games. Move slowly. Begin by working with the "one-more-than" (3 plus 1) facts, followed by the "two-more-than" (3 plus 2) facts, and facts with 0. Follow this with teaching a strategy for doubles (2 plus 2, 3 plus 3). Next, you should go on with a strategy for the "doubles plus 1" and then the "doubles plus 2." Continue with strategies for adding 5 to a number followed by the numbers that add up to 10. You can also teach the "counting on" strategy. Apply it to facts with an addend of 1, 2 or 3. And don't forget to teach that 3 plus 4 is the same as 4 plus 3, as well as one of the strategies involved in adding 9 to a number.

Before you begin teaching number strategies, observe which numbers your child cannot add automatically. Concentrate on teaching these combinations. During your teaching time, give frequent and easy mini-quizzes to help your child gain confidence in her ability to add rapidly.