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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Practice makes better

How do get to Carnegie Hall? Practice! It's the same for math, writes Holly Korbey on Edutopia.

“They are considered dirty words, but drill and practice, and explicit instruction on how to procedurally solve math problems, are evidence-based strategies that work,” says SUNY University at Albany math researcher Ben Solomon.

Students need to develop fluency in the fundamentals, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, research shows. But too many teachers, told to teach concepts and avoid "drill and kill," don't teach the procedural skills that underly conceptual understanding, says Anna Stokke, a University of Winnipeg math professor. Once students have "the basic building blocks," they can "explore the beauty of math,” says cognitive scientist Daniel Ansari of the University of Western Ontario.

Without the building blocks, math is frustrating and boring. Often students are rushed from topic to topic without achieving mastery. Practice moves foundational skills into long-term memory, making new learning easier, says Kathrin Maki, a University of Florida school psychology assistant professor. Popular strategies such as "inquiry learning" are "only helpful when kids have basic, prerequisite skills. . . . Kids who are in the acquisition and proficiency stages, those are kids who need a lot of repeated practice and explicit instruction.”

Korbey looks at how a school is using SpringMath, which gives students more practice in the fundamentals, to build proficiency.

Do you know what works really well? Good, old-fashioned flash cards.

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