Beyond Timed Tests: 5 Ways to Make Procedural Fluency Fun!

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Six years ago I completed my first half marathon! If I was going to live in Cincinnati Ohio, I had to complete a Flying Pig event at least once. So I joined a training group, and after five months, I was at the starting line. I was crazy slow, often getting to water stops as they were packing up. But I was determined that I was going to get to the goal. All along the course spectators, coaches, and friends encouraged me to complete the next mile. Three and a half hours after the starter gun had rung, I finally reached the “Finish Swine.” Tears came to my eyes as I crossed the final sensor and smiling volunteers gave me a medal, congratulating me on a job well done. I finished feeling that I really enjoyed run/walking, and looking forward to my next event. I attribute all my progress and love for the sport, to the awesome running community that has provided so much advice and encouragement in my journey.

I share this story, because it helps me relate to my students’ struggles with procedural fluency in mathematics. For so long I was afraid of running because I “just couldn’t do it” and “I have never been good at it.” Which are the same reasons that our students are stressed when presented with timed tests and fluency drills. If I was told to run 100 yard sprints over and over to prepare for the half, I would have quit the first day! Instead, I was given opportunities which added on miles gradually and taught me to listen to my body. 

What is Procedural Fluency?

The National Council of Teacher of Mathematics (NCTM) defines procedural fluency as “…the ability to apply procedures accurately, efficiently, and flexibly; to transfer procedures to different problems and contexts; to build or modify procedures from other procedures; and to recognize when one strategy or procedure is more appropriate to apply than another.” To be mathematically fluent, it is important that we go beyond timed tests. We need to give students opportunities to use their basic facts in other contexts and situations. We need to allow them to apply various strategies. To help every student see success with procedural fluency, we must offer activities that are engaging and growth focused. Here are five engaging ways to help students in their journey towards procedural fluency.

#1 ~ Flyswatter Games

Flyswatter games are a high interest way to involve students in academic competition. In a flyswatter game, the teacher projects a variety of solutions. Two, or more, students come to the board. After the teacher reads the problem, students must find the answer and claim it with the flyswatter. Teacher can award points to students and/or teams based on who gets the correct answer first.

Try this activity with:
Basic facts, vocabulary, identifying geometric objects

For large groups, consider creating small groups. Write the solutions on chart paper at student desks. As you read the problem, students will compete with the others in their small group. This will allow for more students to be involved each question. 

#2 ~ Card Games 

Card games like Concentration and I Declare War are an engaging, high interest way of helping students compare numbers in various representations. Students simply play familiar card games using different types of numbers such as integers, fractions, and numbers in expanded form. Card games are a great way for students to build fluency and strategy.

(Checkout these great math card sets!)

Try this activity with:
All types of numbers! Check out some card set ideas here.

Consider altering the cards in each deck to differentiate according to student ability level. 

#3 ~ Quiz Quiz Trade 

Quiz Quiz Trade is a kinetic way to practice fluency that also provides students with immediate feedback. In quiz-quiz-trade, teacher will give each student a card. The card should have the problem/term on one side and the solution/definition on the other side. Students find a partner, and one partner “quizzes” the other by asking them to answer their question. Then partner 2 will quiz partner 1. Once they have both answered they will trade their cards so they have a new question. They will then find a new partner and repeat.

Try this activity with:
Basic facts, vocabulary, word problems, identifying geometric objects

If allowing students to roam to find a partner seems too hectic, consider doing an inside/outside circle. Once both partners have answered the question and switched, the circle moves to the right at the teachers command.

More information about the Quiz-Quiz-Trade and Inside-Outside-Circle strategies can be found here.

#4 ~ Puzzles

Puzzles are a great way of helping students match various representations of numbers. Students simply match the pieces that have the same value.

Try this activity:
When comparing numbers in different representations! Check out some puzzle ideas here.

Choose puzzles strategically to differentiate according to student ability level.
Give puzzles with a blank space for students to give an additional representation. 

#5 ~ Scoots

A class Scoot is an engaging and kinetic way for students to practice fluency at their own pace. In a classroom scoot, teacher will disperse a number of problems around the room. (You can place them on desks or hang them within the room.) Students will travel around the room answering the questions. Giving students a limited amount of time for the scoot helps the teacher to see how many questions students are able to answer quickly and accurately.

Try this activity with:
Anything and everything! Possibilities are endless J

To provide an immediate check, consider chaining the scoot questions. To accomplish this, write the answer to one question on the top of another question. Instruct students that once they have answered a question, look at the top of the scoot cards for your answer. Once you have found your answer, that is your next question. Students will then answer this question, find their answer on the next in the chain and so on. This gives students feedback, because if they cannot find their answers, they should re-check their solution. 

Final Thoughts:

As teachers we can create a learning community where everyone’s skill level is respected, everyone’s journey is encouraged, and everyone sees growth. We can create a community where they look forward to fluency exercises, instead of dreading them. After all, everyone gets the same medal at the end J

Please comment and let us know the creative ways you build procedural fluency!

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by Creative Nerd

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  1. I LOVE these activities you mentioned to help with procedural fluency- Quiz Trade is something I would like to try. I like that you have shared these especially because they are so easy to implement and are highly beneficial to students! Thanks so much for writing and sharing this!

  2. Great activities! :-)

  3. These were great suggestions. You did a great job thinking outside the box.Thanks for sharing!

  4. Great ideas for math. Thanks very much for sharing.

  5. Great ideas - interesting read.

  6. Anonymous4/28/2017

    Great ideas for engaging students!

  7. Love all the games and activities. Thanks.


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