Sunday, August 3, 2008

Learning times tables in 1 semester

For many kids it takes all primary school to learn their tables. It seems a 100% of these students have forgotten them week 1 year 8. Then they hit fractions and have all sorts of trouble.

I recently had the opportunity to teach a young lad (11 years old) at a local catholic primary school, two days a week in class for an hour. He could not recognise numbers, could not perform operations and misbehaved constantly in class as he was unable to contribute to lessons. In two terms we had turned him around and these basic concepts were grasped. His mum thought I was a miracle worker. Nothing of the sort, he just needed some old fashioned one-on-one teaching.. After we fixed up some of his other problems, here's what we did with his tables. It works with any age of student that wants to learn or is given sufficient motivation to try.

a) Create an 12x12 grid, In the top left put an x(multiplication symbol). Number the top 0 to 11 and the left hand side 0-11
b) Start with multiples of 10, 5, 0 , 1, 2. Get students to fill in those columns. Identify patterns in the columns to help them remember (eg. even numbers, end in zero etc.) As time goes by get the student to fill in more columns. Time them and re-inforce the need for legibility.
c) Once they master each multiple set (eg. multiples of 2) create palm cards, one set with the left hand side of the equation (eg. 1 x 2 = ) and another with the answer (eg. 2). Use these to either play bingo or concentration.
d) Get students to copy out the current table being learned 5 times (eg. the 2 times table), rewriting any errors 5 times. Make sure that the commutative property is reinforced all the time (eg. 1x2 =2; 2 x 1=2)
e) Create worksheets that show the connection between addition, multiplication, division and subtraction (eg. 2 x 3 = 6; 2+2+2=6; 6 - 2 - 2 -2 = 0; 6÷3=2). Use colour on the sheets and repeat the sheets regularly without changing them. Create them such that they can be completed in less than 5 mins and have many different sheets prepared. Allow them to choose which to complete. Keep all of them as a measure of progress in a file. Only when they get 95-100% of the sheet correct change them.

I know it all sounds obvious. You will find by the 7,8,9 times tables the student only has to learn a few equations (as most of them were already mastered when doing 1-6 times tables (eg. 1x9..6x9). The key is regular repetition. Be careful though - in the early stages my student was very mentally drained as in each lesson a lot is being memorised. The learning curve can be quite steep. This mental drain turns into how many worksheets can I complete in one session. By th end we had introduced another student and started using competition as a motivator.

I still have all the worksheets I made if anyone needs them (it might save you a little work). Drop me a comment and I'll dig up the server I've uploaded them onto and post it here.

If anyone is having second thoughts about the repeated addition part above - here is a great addendum to the article.


  1. Hi, I just thought I would drop by and thank you for your informative blog. I have two children at school. One is 8 and the other 7 (going on 30!). Although, they are still young, it seemed to me that what the Primary school was teaching was not sufficient for my children's needs. So I spent the first two years with my oldest taking her through the basic math addition/subtraction tables until she could recited them in her sleep. Then side swiped the system and taught her the times/division to five until she could do it in her sleep. It was then, I took off from the curriculum and decided to start her on very simple algerbraic functions. We did this for a year and my only thoughts were to get her to see numbers in all kinds of different ways. This year, she went into year three and just took off. Currently she is simplifying fractions and sees the fun in ways in which to find the answers and or, ways to outsmart her Mum! However, I was called into the classroom the other week and rudely told what I was teaching my daughter was stuff they learned in year 5.

    I guess my questions are; should I continue to assist my daughter how maths is cool? Or do I follow the cirrcula line and just tow the line with others?

    I grew up with repetition maths until I could recited it in my sleep and I spent the rest of my years thinking Maths was the coolest ever. More so, I loved trying to work out the tricks and devices used to find possible solutions.


    ps: As a result of what happened in my oldest daughter's class, I am secretly teaching the youngest one as well and we keep it a secret so she can fly under the radar for a while...

  2. Teachers are the second line of defence. Parents are the first line. Continue teaching your child for as long as they enjoy it. Nobody in their right mind should tell you otherwise.

    What a wonderful start for your child.. If only all students had parents that could do what you are doing. It would save me a lot of sleepless nights and afterschool classes.

    We often notice in year 8 that student understanding of fractions greatly increases once algebra is introduced and similarly, students with strong fraction and times table skills pick up algebra quicker. It is a fantastic thing that you are doing.

    Problem solving is an area to travel next, applying algebra and solving puzzles can be great too. United we solve and quizzles spring to mind although there are many great ones out there.

    Perhaps another avenue to draw attention to your kids is to school them in IQ test geometry type puzzles. By practicing NAPLAN type questions (without telling the school) may force them to consider accelerating your children. Just don't tell them I said so.

    You should notice that the curriculum will pick up pace through primary as National Curriculum brings WA back into line with the rest of the country.



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