After 14 years of teaching, I have finally found the solution to one of the biggest annoyances of my third grade math classroom: paper/pencil basic math fact timed tests. Before I describe the solution, though, here’s what has annoyed me in the past about these tests.
- They take too much class time. Although the timed test that I usually give lasts just 5 minutes, the transition to/from the test makes it take more like 8 minutes out of my 50-minute class period. On top of that, if I want students to check their own tests right away to see their results, a simple 5-minute timed test has now turned into at least a 15-minute event. I can’t afford that much class time very often. However, if I choose to grade the tests myself, not only do the students not see their results right away, but…
- They take too much time to grade: I teach math to about 75 students each year. Grading 75 timed tests is not my idea of an evening well spent.
- They’re difficult to differentiate: If I really want to meet students’ learning needs, I need to be giving them a wide variety of tests. When some students are ready for multiplication facts up through the twelves, other students are still working on just the zeroes through fives… and others are still back on addition! But if I do give students a wide array of different tests, having students grade their own tests becomes virtually impossible, and I’m left grading and tracking a wide assortment of timed tests that evening.
- They eat up my copying budget and waste paper: If I want my 75 students to take even 1 timed test per week, that’s 75 x 36 = 2,700 copies I need to make during the school year. (Give two or more timed tests per week and the numbers really get insane.) That’s a huge chunk of copying costs that I’d love to eliminate.
- It’s tough to make the tests fun: Among other things, I’ve tried calculating a class average, setting a lofty class-wide goal, and having the students work as a team to improve that average and conquer their multiplication facts. We’ve celebrated our successes with pizza parties and ice cream, and yet still, paper/pencil timed tests aren’t something most students find all that appealing.
With all this in mind, I’ve spent the last four months developing an online solution to this problem, where students could take a wide variety of easily-differentiated, instantly-graded timed tests. I wanted students’ scores to be automatically tracked over time and easily viewed by both the student and the teacher. I also wanted students to receive fun virtual awards celebrating their progress along the way to help make the process as fun and motivating as possible.
Mission accomplished. This past week, www.themathfacts.com went live. I designed that site specifically to include everything I had wanted: 25 different timed test options for easy differentiation, a virtual trophy case celebrating students’ achievements, and a results area that automatically tracks and displays students’ math fact performance over time.
I’ll never give another paper/pencil timed test again.
If you teach a math class where students are learning their basic facts, I invite you to visit themathfacts.com to see if you too might find it a vast improvement over the traditional timed test.