Mulling Over Mad Minute

Yesterday, I attended the last of three math inservices offered through our Board on the new Leaps and Bounds resource that we are using in our classrooms. As we worked in groups to examine curriculum expectations, we also started discussing different math topics. I mentioned to the math facilitator at our table that I’m struggling with what to do with drill sheets. Many of my students rely on using a calculator, particularly for multiplication and division questions. When they do figure out the answer without a calculator, it takes them a while, and the answer is not always correct. This year, students are learning how to answer more difficult multiplication and division problems, and how can they do so if they do not know their basic facts?

I am not a fan of math drills, and for students that need this extra support, I often suggest that they work on this at home with their parents. I have even posted links on the class website. I’m still noticing that most students struggle with recalling basic facts, and now I’m thinking that I may need to do more. When sharing my concerns at the table, the topic came up of Mad Minute. One teacher mentioned that she did this with her class and competed with another class in the school. She posted student scores, and then individual scores were compared against individual scores in the other class.

This got me really upset. I asked about the students in her class that were struggling. How did they feel? How did this activity help them improve? She said that all student scores went up, so all students should have felt proud, but did they? It really matters to me that all students meet with success, so how am I going to help students memorize the math facts that they need, while also focusing on individual student needs, and allowing students to communicate and apply what they learned during these drill activities?

I know that students respond well to competition, but if I’m having my class compete with another class, then I want my entire class to feel as though their contribution matters. I also want individual students to focus on their own scores, and look at their own improvements each week, instead of their scores measured against their friends’ scores.

As I mull over Mad Minute, here are my thoughts:

  • I don’t want to devote more than 5 minutes a day to math drills. Math should be primarily able rich dialogue, good opportunities for application, and the thinking behind the questions. I know my students all need to practice the facts, so if they are going to do so in isolation, then I want this drill time to be short.
  • I want to differentiate these drills. I differentiate everything else in the classroom, so why should this be different? Students can review the math facts and concepts that they need to review. If they need the challenge of multiple types of questions on the same page, then they can have this challenge. This will allow all students to meet their individual goals.
  • The focus will be on growth. If all students need this review (and it’s apparent that they do), then the goal is going to be to improve. We always want to “bump up” our work, so why shouldn’t we in this case as well? Each week, we will calculate the average score as a class, but without names attached to each score. Then we can compare these scores with the other Grade 6 class for some healthy competition. We’ll celebrate successes, but without worrying about the numbers, but about the gains.

Maybe these short math drills at school will even encourage some students to practice these skills more at home. I look forward to seeing what happens.

What are your thoughts on math drills in the classroom? How do you ensure that this activity leads to “success for all?” I would love to know your thoughts on this!


9 thoughts on “Mulling Over Mad Minute

  1. Hi Aviva,
    I found that my students really struggled with this as well. I started putting up a hundreds chart on the SMART Board and we would do skip counting by different numbers while doing an exercise of their choice. They came up with creative repetitive movements and it got their blood flowing. They loved it and it really helped some of the kids that were struggling.

  2. Hi Aviva,
    You have asked the same question I struggle with every year. I teach gr. 4 and went at it this year in the following manner: On day one of multiplication I gave everyone a blank 10×10 multiplication chart and asked them to fill it in with the answers they knew “automatically”. I told them I was confident they would be able to figure them all out given time but that we were interested in finding out which ones they currently had committed to memory. After they’d filled them in as much as they could, I asked them to highlight the blanks. They were able to see quite clearly the areas of need. I kept a photocopy and they were asked to post the original on the fridge at home and devote their time at home to memorizing those ones. We talked about some of the tricks we can use, ie) skip counting, which times tables are easy (like twos and fives, ones and tens etc.), and shared strategies for practicing. We each made a set of flashcards (found online) and kept them in a baggie and devoted time each day to “testing” each other. I assigned for homework things like “practice skip counting by 4’s tonight, all the way to 40 until you can do it well”. We used some of our lab time to do various math minutes online, and the site we used allowed kids to focus in on a particular times table and extend the timer and number of questions on the page etc. After 2 weeks of focused practice I handed back the multiplication chart we had originally created and students filled in the blanks they’d highlighted before, with wonderful success! They had all improved. At no point was the emphasis on how they stacked up with others, but how to advance their own skills, and they all did that. It was a great way to review single digit multiplication facts prior to heading into double digits. Hope that helps.

    • Thanks for the comment, Janet! I really like this idea. You’ve combined memorization, pencil/paper tasks, and gaming, while differentiating and allowing students to compete just with themselves. I think I’ll need to give this a try. 🙂


  3. Aviva, thank you so much for sharing this link with me. As I read the post and all of the comments, I’m sitting here nodding my head. And as I was reading, I thought of something else – is it really that the kids don’t know their facts or is it that our kids don’t have a strong foundation in basic number sense? Have we spent so long on drilling and killing facts that the kids can’t learn them because they don’t understand the point?? Something to ponder.

    • You make a really interesting point here, Becky, and one that I never considered before. Maybe we need to slow down and ensure that students really understand number sense. It’s about a lot more than just basic facts. Thanks for giving me so much to think about!


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