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Middle Schools

Basic Computation: A Rationale and Approach

The Success Factor

For students to have any semblance of enthusiasm for math, they must be minimally successful. Otherwise, they become discouraged and math becomes a necessary evil. The number of students who drop math at the first opportunity evidences this.

Teachers begin seeing discouraged students as early as the elementary years. These numbers increase as students reach higher grades. By then it becomes very difficult to reenergize learner interest and enthusiasm for math. What’s needed to slow or reverse the trend are ways for students to enjoy more success earlier in their math careers.

One of the earliest opportunities for success is mastery of the math fact tables. Fluency here is not only intrinsically rewarding, it plays a key role in further math studies. Students with math fact agility are nearly always more confident and successful with later topics. Most importantly, we now have demonstrable ways to create and measure student success with math facts.

If we’re looking to give students some extra success, the basic tables are a good place to start.

Technology Opportunity

When it comes to teaching math not many methods can be guaranteed to work. When we find one that does we should embrace it.

Using computers to teach math facts qualifies. A structured program can provide all the essential components of effective instruction. Beginning in the first grade and continuing at their own pace, learners can be virtually guaranteed to progress and succeed at a high standard of performance.

The process is so efficient that even learners constrained to  a slower pace achieve mastery ahead of  traditional expectations, and well before the skills are brought into play for such advanced topics as word problems, percentages, fractions, etc.

Boy A Plus

Leveraging Success

Whether in math or any other effort, success is leveraged by the reaction of others. Students attend more to tasks they think are most important to their teachers. Teachers show what is important to them with expressions of expectation and interest. To heighten the value of math success, it’s good for teachers to make a big deal of it, to show curiosity about how a student is doing and to show that the student’s ultimate success is expected on a “when,” not “if,” basis.

Community Expectations

How often do we act in accordance with the expectations of the larger community? When our school or club takes for granted that we will perform some deed, we nearly always do it if we are able. We can apply this to math. When we involve students in a program for basic math skills, we should place a community level of expectation on the completion of that program. We can accomplish this by indicating to elementary students that their middle school expects them to have attained the skills covered by the program.

Middle school sponsorship of the program accomplishes both goals. It strengthens the value of computational skills and sets expectations for completion of the program that builds them. Under middle school sponsorship, students in all elementary schools that feed a middle school get access to the program with the expectation that it will be completed.

I am using the program a lot and the kids are really into it. I especially like how I can program it for each child. It is really working for me. In 2nd grade I already have half of my class on subtraction facts.
– Maryland Second Grade Teacher

Imagine the transformation in elementary and middle school math classes when teachers in general are able to make comments like this.

Process Description

The ideal program systematically addresses single digit addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. For each skill type it provides:

  • Measurable standards for performance.
  • Small steps and self-pacing to assure successful practice.
  • Automatic performance analysis for extra practice where needed.
  • Immediate positive reinforcement to make practice enjoyable.
  • Frequent and regular feedback to show learner progress.
  • Clear indications of milestone achievement.
  • Clear indication of final skill mastery.
Measurable standards for performance

Middle school sponsorship provides a license giving program access to all elementary students attending schools in the middle school “cluster” as well as all students of the middle school itself. Access extends to all school computers and any other computers available to students.

Students begin working with the program in the first grade or as soon as possible. Ordinarily, students address the skills in order of difficulty. This sequence may be varied.

Acknowledging limitations on access to school computers, the program is set up for students to work in short sessions of only a few minutes each. However, students may use the program at home to develop and sharpen skills. These new skills are then used to update performance data kept at school. Even at a constrained pace, routine diligence accomplishes the learning task in a reasonable and acceptable amount of time.

recorded student performance

That the complete process for a given skill may extend over weeks, even months, is actually advantageous. It provides the learning benefits of spaced practice and reduces possibly negative effects of competition between students. Moreover, the longer basic skills continue to receive attention the greater the importance attached to them. Finally, an extended process of skill mastery gives younger students the useful experience of working toward a somewhat distant goal.

Throughout the process teachers are kept current with student progress via computer reports based on recorded student performance.*


A structured process sponsored by middle schools is proposed. The process employs a computer program to systematically build student proficiency in basic computation beginning in the early grades. The result is a marked degree of student success along with the confidence and enthusiasm that success engenders. These skills, confidence, and enthusiasm in turn contribute to the learning of more advanced topics at both elementary and middle school levels.

The process is self-paced and self-administered by students working alone. It asks little of teachers beyond demonstrating interest and providing routine encouragement and expectation of success. In all, it assures improved overall math performance.

*Teachers are encouraged to participate in the program themselves in order to become familiar with it and to share students’ experience.

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