Time after time

This is something where I would really like to hear people’s opinions, both on the ‘little stuff’ and on the bigger picture.

Barring my most able pupils classes (i.e. about 1/2 – 1/3 of the pupils in top sets), a huge barrier for my pupils is that they haven’t ‘secured’ their times tables. This makes everything laborious and error-strewn, making maths even more slow and frustrating for them, and increasing the likelihood that their answers will be ‘wrong’.

Almost everyone I teach would have at least the following response to the question “What’s 6 x 7?”

1.Decide on 6s or 7s

2. Start counting up in 6s (hopefully)

3. Keep track on fingers to know when you’ve reached 7

4. Give answer/return to the reason why you need ‘6 7s’

The majority* would expand steps 2 and 3 to be ‘start at 6, count on for six fingers and say ‘2’, count on for six fingers, say ‘3’, count on for six fingers, say ‘4’, etc’. It takes ages, and is prone to a lot of mistakes as, because they are using their fingers to count from 1 to 6, they can’t use them to keep track of how many 6s they have used.

S0, my question is: should we put a lot more emphasis on memorising ‘times tables’ in primary school? I can think of many arguments for and against doing so, and some tangential points, but would like to throw it open as I haven’t made up my mind.

Supplementary question: given that the majority don’t know their tables, should I let them have their own multiplication grids to stick in their books/stuck to the desks, which they can refer to? This would almost eliminate what practice they do get, but they would move much more quickly, and with more accuracy, through everything else (e.g. algebra, fractions, volume, etc…).

This is a neat alternative, and somewhat in keeping with the news:

* This includes Y11 students working towards Cs in their GCSEs.


Filed under Education, Perceptions of Maths

4 responses to “Time after time

  1. Stephen

    I thought about this a bit.

    Speaking from purely anecdotal evidence, my times tables were drilled into me with a certain vigour and repetitiveness, to the extent I can still remember this process quite vividly from an early age, at 5 or 6 (one two is two, two twos are four,…).

    As a university maths student I did initially think this was a rose-tinted view but the more I thought about it, a couple of things are telling:-

    My basic numeracy is rusty, I tend to reach for a calculator for even the simplest sums, but never for multiplication. 7 eights are 56 instantly (and that phrasing is often how I think about it).

    This runs out at 12 (twelve twelves are 144 πŸ™‚ ) as that’s how far I went up to, when asked 13×4 I don’t have that same instant answer.

    Of course the whole rote learning bit was probably pretty boring at the time and my aptitude for the subject could be a big influence.

    On a personal side note, sorry I haven’t spoken to you in ages. Hope you’re well and enjoying it up there, really like the blog.

  2. Shivani

    Hey Dani,

    I may be old school, but here’s my tuppence worth: It’s all very well to get kids to learn problem solving and the more “thinking” bits of maths, but that needs to be grounded in something. I think that basic number bonds and times tables are that grounding. That said, I don’t think entire lessons need to be devoted to it… I’ve often found that 5 mins or so of chanting is pretty effective over a prolonged period…but I don’t really know πŸ™‚

    Hope all is well. Much love,

    Shivani xx

  3. Zoe

    I’m not a teacher, (obviously) but I’d probably err on the side of giving them multiplication squares. Maths is fun, but basic multiplication isn’t really, and not mastering it can seriously effect the ability to enjoy the more complicated parts. The only problem then comes when exams come up, if they’re expected to do the multiplication themselves. (In my school, for JC, mine was the only teacher who made us use log/cos/sin/tan tables the whole way through, most of the other teachers let the kids learn using calculators and then taught them to use the log books at the very end.)

    But I think it’s a bit like crochet. The first stitch you learn is chain, but chain in and of itself is pretty boring, and you can’t make anything with just it. But you need to practise it before you try anything more complicated, but there are lots of people who get frustrated with the early steps and just abandon the whole thing altogether.

    • Shivani

      But as you say, they need to master the chain for themselves- it’s no good someone else giving the chain to them each time (which is what the square does). It means that they can kind of make some cool stuff, but they’ll never be able to do any of it on their own…
      Maybe idealistic, but I’d say that learning times tables by heart is a short term nightmare and a long term blessing, and not doing so the exact opposite πŸ™‚

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