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Procedural Fluency

Procedural fluency refers to knowledge of procedures, knowledge of when and how to use them appropriately, and skill in performing them flexibly, accurately, and efficiently. In the domain of number, procedural fluency is especially needed to support conceptual understanding of place value and the meanings of rational numbers. It also supports the analysis of similarities and differences between methods of calculating. These methods include, in addition to written procedures, mental methods for finding certain sums, differences, products, or quotients, as well as methods that use calculators, computers, or manipulative materials such as blocks, counters, or beads.

Procedural fluency refers to knowledge of procedures, knowledge of when and how to use them appropriately, and skill in performing them flexibly, accurately, and efficiently.

Students need to be efficient and accurate in performing basic computations with whole numbers (6+7, 17–9, 8×4, and so on) without always having to refer to tables or other aids. They also need to know reasonably efficient and accurate ways to add, subtract, multiply, and divide multidigit numbers, both mentally and with pencil and paper. A good conceptual understanding of place value in the base-10 system supports the development of fluency in multidigit computation.11 Such understanding also supports simplified but accurate mental arithmetic and more flexible ways of dealing with numbers than many students ultimately achieve.

Connected with procedural fluency is knowledge of ways to estimate the result of a procedure. It is not as critical as it once was, for example, that students develop speed or efficiency in calculating with large numbers by hand, and there appears to be little value in drilling students to achieve such a goal. But many tasks involving mathematics in everyday life require facility with algorithms for performing computations either mentally or in writing.

In addition to providing tools for computing, some algorithms are important as concepts in their own right, which again illustrates the link between conceptual understanding and procedural fluency. Students need to see that procedures can be developed that will solve entire classes of problems, not just individual problems. By studying algorithms as “general procedures,” students can gain insight into the fact that mathematics is well structured (highly organized, filled with patterns, predictable) and that a carefully developed procedure can be a powerful tool for completing routine tasks.

It is important for computational procedures to be efficient, to be used accurately, and to result in correct answers. Both accuracy and efficiency can be improved with practice, which can also help students maintain fluency. Students also need to be able to apply procedures flexibly. Not all computational situations are alike. For example, applying a standard pencil-and-paper algorithm to find the result of every multiplication problem is neither neces-

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