Digital teaching tips & tricks, ideas, examples, and general thoughts and reflections. Follow my Inquiry.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Is there a "best way" to rote learn times tables?

Seen's it looks like I'm going to be stuck teaching times tables by rote learning, I want to make sure I'm teaching it the best way that I can. So I google searched:

Most of the results I found weren't very helpful, however one did catch my eye. It promoted teaching and learning times tables in a very structured way, and contained a lot of the ideas that NZ Maths promote as well (See my post on Basic facts).

The article promoted teaching the drill in a very specific way, that provided visual, auditory, and kinesthetic cues for the students. However what I really liked was the three step structure.

1. Skip counting pattern
i.e. 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18...
By skip counting with the students first, you are learning to memorise the pattern and answers of the times table set before you begin. This will help the answers spring to mind when you later try to memorise the fact.

2. The table
i.e. 3x1= ?, 3x2=?, 3x3=?, 3x4=?
Starting at 3x1 and progressing down the list matches the skip counting and will continue to cement the pattern and answers.

3. The table backwards
i.e ?x3=3, ?x3=6, ?x3=9, ?x3=12
Again starting at 1x3=3 and moving down the list. The question is only re-written and shouldn't require as much brain power to answer as step 2, however it does require the learner to think of the question back to front. Again further cementing that fact into the brain.

Once finished the three steps you would simply repeat the process, but back to front. i.e. 36, 33, 30 etc. Then continue to do all the steps back to front, and eventually out of order.

The article suggests that how long you spend on this drill at one time, and how long you spend on each times table set would totally depend on you and your class.

I haven't tried this yet, but I think I will give it a go with my target group in the near future. Digital version though of course (screw writing all that on the whiteboard!!!)

Why my original hypothesis was wildly wrong

Well "wildly wrong" might be a tad too strong, however a crucial part of my hypothesis was indeed wrong, and this has led to failures on my part.

My original hypothesis stated that:
 " learners were struggling to acquire and retain their basic facts, and other maths knowledge." This is still true, and I still believe this is the problem.

However, the issue with this hypothesis was that first I had attributed the "struggle" to the learner's ability instead of my own (DERP!). It seems so obvious in retrospect, however at the time I had not considered that I myself might be the problem. It is possible of course that my learners have an issue acquiring and retaining basic facts, however a more realistic and far more likely situation is that the "struggle" I talked about, is really attributed to my ability to teach basic facts. 

My new hypothesis is the basic idea that if can teach basic facts better so that my learners acquire and retain them, then I will see a greater improvement in higher stages of maths.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Can learning times tables be fun? ...Not really, but you can try to make them less boring!

Since realising that kids struggle to learn their time's tables all over the world and that this is not some rare phenomenon happening only in my class... That I don't have to be some kind of Super Teacher and solve this issue all by myself... I have been doing more and more reading online about how other people teach times tables, and the best ways to learn times tables.

In all the sources that I come across, they all seem to agree that learning basic facts (times tables) off by heart is essential to being a high achiever in maths. They also agree (sadly) that the best and most efficient way to memorise these facts off by heart is by rote learning them in some way.
- The Telegraph
- The School Run
- Mathmo Consulting

While all agree that boring old rote learning is best the way to memorise basic facts. They also suggest that fun and engaging times table games or activities will help provide incentive or motivation for learners, which should help counter the monotonous nature of the rote learning. See my post on Rob Wiseman's time's table rap for what I think is a great example of this.

Hesitant to play too many games such as 'Around the world' which I fear only helps the small number of high achievers grow in confidence, while detrimentally affecting the ones who could really use some motivation, I have looked at other types of "fun and engaging games" on the internet. I have come across a website called Math Playground. This is just one of 100's of websites claiming to be "maths games" however this is one of the better ones I have found, that has ACTUAL maths learning in the games.

Rather than give them a free-for-all access to the site, which I can imagine would naturally become a trolling session looking for the most entertaining game on the site. I have selected a game at the right level for each of my groups and restricted them to that game only for the week. I have explained to my class that these games are on trial basis and if we can't use them appropriately and do our other work as well, then I would remove them from our rotation.

For my target group, I found a times tables race car game. This game can be played against the computer or other real players (including each other) as they race their car around the track and to the finish. To propel your car forward you must answer the time's table questions on your screen. Get a question right and your car accelerates, get a question wrong and your car slows down. Rather than recalling the answers straight from their brain, the game gives you four answers to choose from, only one correct. This is a nice change from some of the other resources they use and helps them answer more rapidly (more fun!).

I have trialled the games this week, and they have been an absolute hit! However it is the first week back, and they are brand new, so I'm not getting my hopes up just yet. I think this is something I will bring back either every second week or something similar so that they don't lose their "cool factor" they have right now.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Times tables Rap - Learning from our own

Rob Wiseman is a teacher at Pt England School and has a Year 7 & 8 class.
Similarly to my Year 5 & 6 class his Year 7 & 8's are lacking in times tables knowledge, but not so similar to my Year 5 & 6 class Rob thought of an exciting, original, and creative way to help his learners learn their time's tables.

Rob got his class to write and record their own song or rap about a times table set. He showed them examples and then scaffolded them into creating their own.
Rob said that his learners were "visibly engaged in the activity and enjoyed the creative process", and what stood out for him was "seeing how enthusiastic the boys were about this activity. Boys who didn't often get excited about maths were visibly enjoying creating their song or rap". 
Rob did admit that he was a bit ambitious trying to have the task finished in one week, and that next time he would require them to learn the script off by heart instead of reading while they recorded it, as some learners "when quizzed on those times tables... struggled to respond accurately".

Rob recorded and shared his lesson and planning via his Manaiakalani Google Class OnAir site, and you can watch the whole thing here if you are interested.

I think this idea is a really fun and exciting way to make times tables fun. I don't think it is realistic to learn all times tables this way, but a great way as Rob said to engage learners who don't usually get excited about maths. This has challenged me to try and come up with more interesting ways of teaching time stables in my own class. It was also really nice to be able to have a look inside some one else's classroom, and their teaching.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Same problems different classes

This afternoon we met in our school inquiry groups. These are groups within the school that come together and share how our inquiries are going twice a term. As a school we are all focussing on maths this year, and our individual inquiries have come from targeting our own needs and the needs of our class under that umbrella.

What is really interesting (yet logical) is that throughout different year levels in the school, there is lots of cases of the same issues, low basic facts, place value confusion, and lack of consolidation being the most common.

Being Term 2 we have all tried a lot more in our classrooms, and instead of sharing and listening to each other's inquiries, we could actually engage in real discussion about how we are attempting to overcome some of these challenges. In many cases we have come to the same conclusions, and are attempting the similar changes to our practice. However other ideas were new to me, and gave me great ideas to try. It was just really nice to be able to problem solve and have those discussions with other people in the same boat.

I did reflect that if these are common problems in my own school, then they are probably common problems throughout the country, if not the world. I need to do some more research, as it is rather big headed of me to believe that I can solve the worlds problems on my own. 

There are WAY less times tables than you think there are!

Basic facts is still the bane of my inquiry. It's boring to teach, and progress is slow, however small successes must celebrated! So here's a quick anecdote:

Today I listened to one my girls tell me she couldn't solve the problem because she didn't know her 8 times tables, and she only knew her 1-5, 10, and 11's. I quizzed her to see if she was telling the truth, and to her credit she was right. She had her 1-5's down, as well as her 10's and 11's, right up to 11 x 12. For what ever reason though, she found the others tricky and intimidating.

I told her this was FANTASTIC because she would only have a handful left to learn now. She looked at me as if I was lying, and didn't believe me until I showed her on a grid. I reminded her that times tables reverse, so if you know one, you also know the other.

4 x 7 = 28 / 7 x 4 = 28

Once she understood this concept, and realised she only needed to learn the higher numbers from each of the time stables, she suddenly became confident and determined. For her it was a confidence issue, more than a memory issue. However the grid rule still works well for learners who know just their 1, 2, 5, an 10's as this still covers a huge number of times tables, and can be quite a confidence boost for the kids when they see it displayed like this.

The grid I showed the student in my class.