A Method to My Mad Minutes

Test anxiety seems to be the theme of the week for me. While I've been wondering how to ease my students' feelings of test anxiety on the New York State English Language Arts exam and next week's math test, I've been dealing with the same problem on a smaller, daily basis.

While I generally approach mathematics in the most inquiry-based, differentiated fashion I can, I also try to couple that with good old rote memorization. That means a daily "Mad Minute" at the start of each math lesson. The students have a minute to complete 30 math facts without skipping any. The idea is to build fluency. Once my students memorize these basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts, they'll have an invaluable foundation for all their future math. Right now we're practicing multiplication.

The goal is to emphasize growth over performance. The students are supposed to focus on improvement, not competition with one another. It's supposed to be a fun, quick, and simple way to develop their fundamental math skills. Too bad several of my students are having problems with either the fun, quick, or simple part, and some students are having trouble with all three.

A couple of my students just freeze up. In spite of being given a myriad of strategies (skip counting, repeated addition...) and their ability to solve multiplication number stories, they just freeze up completely. Doesn't matter if the first fact is 3 x 2 or 6 x 0, they fail. Then there's the number of students who just copy off their neighbors. Among these students, and the rest of the class, there are the students who refuse to practice their facts at home, and so are showing zero growth.

So what's the solution? This is a proven method (Proven where? Good question.) to develop students computational fluency, but the majority of students in my class don't seem to be reaping the benefits. Should I scrap it altogether? I don't want my students moving on to fourth grade adding or subtracting using their fingers, or unable to multiply quickly. Should I get rid of the time limit? That would sort of defeat the purpose of the whole exercise.

For now, I'm trying to review multiplication strategies and to give the students some time to practice their multiplication with partners right before the test. On top of that I'm giving the students two minutes instead of one. Will these slight modifications yield results? I guess we'll just have to wait and see.


Angela Watson said…
I'm a fan of Mad Minutes but encountered some of the same problems you did. I tried some other techniques (which I detailed here: http://thecornerstoneforteachers.com/2009/05/product-review-conquer-times-tables-in.html) and ultimately found that there's no magic fix to get kids to memorize math facts. It requires motivation, a strong memory, well-developed visualization skills, and the self-discipline to review the answers again and again. It's not as simple as I hoped it would be.
Pete Zucker said…
You leave a comment on my blog, anonymously. Yet, you don't allow others to post anonymously here. You attack me on my blog, yet, you do not allow anyone to attack you, contradict you on your blog. You only allow praise.

You are such a phony. So two faced.

Will this comment see the light of day?
Ruben Brosbe said…
I opted only to post one of your three angry comments, hope that's okay. I'm not sure what comment you're referring to, but I've never attacked you on your blog or anywhere else. As I've explained before, I choose to moderate comments on this blog that are ad hominem attacks or completely off topic. I'm making an exception in this case so I can respond to your complaint and reiterate my stance. You're obviously still free to use your blog to write whatever you want about me, and to use the GS comments as a forum as well, so I'm not sure why the comments space on this blog is so important to you.
Fear the Fellow said…
I do the same thing a couple of times a week. It gets kind of boring for both me and the kids, but I know they need it when they can't tell me what 2 x 2 is when we're solving equations. I think what Angela (above) said is right, there's no easy way to do it - just persistence! Good luck with the end of the school year!

Also, @Bronx Teacher, you didn't even comment on the blog - if you're going to be rude, be rude and constructively critical! :)
Ruben Brosbe said…

I use it as a daily routine to start our math lessons. The kids seem to really like it, but it could be an act. Even so, I'm noticing very little progress overall. The Mad Minute sheet was 3 rows of 10 and very few students are making it past the first row, even if I give them 2 minutes. I've decided for the next few weeks to focus on addition and subtraction though, because a lot of the shortcuts for multiplication require mental addition, and they don't have that down either.
Oh everybody is learning! People just forget everything in a week. The entire education system is to make us all drones that listen to pop music, waste our money on drugs, and work 8hour shifts before comeing home to watch American idol. So yes. I would say our children are learning just fine. www.gateofintrigue.com Get some intrigue!

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