Math Facts Plus Stop Watches Don’t Equal Success

This post was re-posted at  Edudemic where it was nominated for a 2012 Edublog Award.

MAD MINUTE is a teaching practice widely used in Canada.  It includes having long strips of papers with lists of addition, subtraction, multiplication or division facts on it.  The goal is to get as many math facts correct in one minute as you can.

Guest Blogger Autumn Shaw, age 16, shares her reflections on the years of MAD MINUTE and how it affects her to this day.

It all started in grade 1 when I learned to add.  I’d say its what has led to crying fits, hiding in the bathroom, avoidance techniques (breaking my pencil), stomach aches and just a general hate for math.

This one minute of the day could ruin my whole day.  It was literally the worst minute of the day.  I could do all the questions, I just couldn’t do them in one minute.  Some of the kids could, and they got their Mad Minutes hung on the board, they got stickers, they got glittery pencils.  All I got was a hate for math.

Then there were the teachers that thought 2 minutes a day of Mad Minute was a good idea.  A good idea to give me twice the amount of time to learn I could not do mad minutes was not a good idea.


02.19.10 (Photo credit: colemama)

Of course, another reinforcer to my belief that I could not do math, never could, never will, was the extra-reinforcing practice of passing my paper to the person sitting in front of me to mark.  This was the chance to share with my classmates, I couldn’t do math, never could, never would be able to.  Some of the kids started writing, “YOU SUCK :-(” on my paper.  This led to me one upping them and me just writing, “I SUCK,” everyday on my math paper.

I don’t know why the teachers thought Mad Minute helped me in math.  It didn’t improve my math, at all.  It did however reinforce everyday that I was not good in math, couldn’t be the fastest in math, never was, never would be, and I was only six years old.  The irony of it all was that I could do math, just not under pressure in a situation that pitted me against the clock and against my peers.

Another torturous part of MAD MINUTE, was the practice of allowing all the students who had 100% each day Monday – Thursday to be exempt from Mad Minutes on Friday.  So, if you didn’t feel like the outcast already, on Fridays, classmates watched me, glaringly obvious that they were good at math, and I wasn’t.  Never was, never would be.

Today, in grade 11 I am in the lowest math class.  Could this be because when I was six I learned I was not good in math, never was, never would be?  There is something to say for that daily reinforcement.  I look back on it and I know, Mad Minutes were not good for me.

I hope there are no teachers out there that continue with MAD MINUTE.  Its not good, not helpful and can have a lasting negative effect on a student.

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  1. Hi Lori,
    how are you? I hope you have nothing against exchanging emails, haven’t you?
    I would like to tell you about my experience as a math teacher.
    Personally I have been a math teacher for a long time. After many years of teaching, I learned that many of the students don’t fully grasp the concept of the lessons being taught. I have developed a “group system” with exams, check lists for evaluations and cards with tasks. I have structured an entire system on the basis of statistical evaluation tools. I received some recognition and even started to run workshops for other teachers.
    When my school was one of the first ones to purchase educational software for the computer lab, both the teachers and the students were ecstatic. Myself included. I hoped that it would provide the skills and repetition needed to learn math along with a good explanation for the concepts of math. Which is absolutely critical.
    However, these skills grilles did any good. Good students became restless quickly and the slower students learned how to do a minimal amount of work (kids are good in guessing).
    My search for a better solution continued with technological developments. I scrutinised every new educational software. Today these software had become online and web based. The major issue with all these programs is that none of them are capable of delivering the full package. Some offer fun and engagement, however it lacks a serious approach. Others are mainly focused on the principles of math. But are tedious and repetitive. They have no flexibility. Teachers lack the proper resources and students aren’t receiving any personal engagement which is the main issue for 21 Century education.
    I can shamelessly promise you that I have the real solution, which I found in a quite magic circumstances. Really, with all I want to make it with scientific approach, when I share this story, it sounds like a story tale.
    However, this is long letter, so my story tale will be for tomorrow “good night story”.
    Best regards,

  2. Here is a question I pose to teachers when this conversation comes up…
    In the same amount of time, one student answers 100 fact problems – 70 correct and 30 wrong. The other student completes only 70 and omits 30, but all 70 are correct. Who is the more “procedurally fluent” student?

    I would encourage everyone to read Susan Jo Russell’s definition of computational fluency. It seems to me that most teachers are unaware of two-thirds of what goes into proficiency with whole number operations.
    What is Computational Fluency?

    Fluency, as we use it here, includes three ideas: efficiency, accuracy, and flexibility:

    – Efficiency implies that the student does not get bogged down in too many steps or lose track of the logic of the strategy. An efficient strategy is one that the student can carry out easily, keeping track of subproblems and making use of intermediate results to solve the problem.
    – Accuracy depends on several aspects of the problem-solving process, among them careful recording, knowledge of number facts and other important number relationships, and double-checking results.
    – Flexibility requires the knowledge of more than one approach to solving a particular kind of problem, such as two-digit multiplication. Students need to be flexible in order to choose an appropriate strategy for the problem at hand, and also to use one method to solve a problem and another method to double-check the results.

    • Lori Cullen

       /  April 11, 2012

      Thank you George for this comment, I think you are absolutely right when you talk about a lack of knowledge about Computational Fluency. Thanks for the great information!

  3. Lori,

    You were a resilient child who found her way to becoming a principal. Not all children are that lucky (with 50 percent of our urban children not graduating from high school). They can’t overcome the shame and blame we pour on them (of course with the goal of coercing them to do better). I had a similar experience in elementary school with spelling!

    PS @ George … fluency involves so many of the executive skills that many of our children have not developed for a myriad of reasons. But that is another whole discussion in it’s self.


  4. Lori Cullen

     /  April 14, 2012

    Thanks Sasha… the 16 year old that wrote the blog is my daughter so I know firsthand how teaching techniques like the one she mentioned can affect a person! Our hope with this post is to simply bring awareness. I would like to see a blog post by you about spelling!

    Thank you for the comment!

  5. I am so glad that your daughter shared her story. I was one of those kids with a very quick memory, so math facts were a breeze for me. Sadly, I saw so many of my friends suffer similarly to what your daughter encountered. While my papers were always on the wall with big 100% stars, theirs never were. Even as a child, I knew there was something wrong with that.

    As a teacher, I emphasize with parents the need for conceptual understanding before memorization and fluency. We spend a lot of time in our school integrating “subjects” together in an inquiry model, so that children understand that math, art, science, etc. are not isolated topics in life. I really feel that has helped our kids, even those who are, to quote Darren Kuropatwa (@dkuropatwa), “mathematically wounded.” Many of my students are wounded from past schooling experiences. My job is to help them to love learning, not punish or put them on the spot.

    Thanks for sharing this post!

    • Lori Cullen

       /  March 1, 2013

      Thanks for the comment Michelle. I really appreciate the approach you are taking as a teacher.

  1. The Edublog Awards – 2012 Nominations » At the Principal's Office

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