Thursday, 18 March 2010

Times Tables, anyone?

I'm back to worrying about maths.

For the past few months we've been using smartkiddies - an Australian online programme (with a crap name). It has worked really well for A, and I've supplemented it with other materials I've picked up along the way from various sources, linking in to the area she's working on.

The only part she hasn't got on very with with are the timed challenges, put her under any time pressure with maths and she panics and cant think straight. She has completed some of these, but I haven't pushed her because I'd much rather she understood the processes and how to work things out than give her the message that you have to be quick to be good at maths.

We have now reached the multiplication section, and it seems to be expected that all children must learn their times tables off by heart. I know this is what she would have to do in school, and she did when she was at school, but I have big reservations about this approach. We have gone through all the tables and looked at the patterns within them and ways of working out the answers, and she can do that, but I have not made her learn them by heart.

Most people I speak to about this seem to see times tables as a necessary evil, and the only way of teaching kids the basics of multiplication. I don't really agree with this, but am starting to doubt myself. I've been having a few of those 'am I doing this all wrong?' moments, which are fairly familiar as a home edder.

My problem with times tables is - it is learning by rote, which goes against my general approach anyway, and means there isn't necessarily any understanding behind it. A child could repeat all their times tables perfectly but not be able to work out the answer. I know this is not very likely as kids get taught the processes alongside learning them off by heart, but it seems that learning them by rote is just a way of getting to the answer quicker. Which brings us back to this idea that you have to be quick to be good at maths (am I going round in circles here?).

I suppose I could drill A everyday in her tables, and she would learn them eventually, but I worry that it would take her back to that deep, deep hatred of maths (rather than the dislike we have progressed to) and feelings of inadequacy because she's no 'good' (ie quick) at maths. My gut feeling is that it just wouldn't suit her way of learning, she finds rote learning very boring (unless its learning lines for a play, because she's connecting into the performance for that) and will just switch off. She needs that connection of understanding and application to 'real life'.

However, we are trying a little experiment. A has realised herself that she has particular problems with the 7 times table, so we have written it out on a big piece of paper and put it on her bedroom wall. She is going to approach it like learning lines, and keep going over them. It will be interesting to see how she gets on with this, it may work because the idea (although suggested by me) has come from her own realisations about her strengths and weaknesses, and a desire on her part to improve. We shall see...

I'd be really interested to hear anyone else's experiences in this area - please feel free to give me your opinions and examples of what has/hasn't worked for you and your child/ren :o)


Sarah said...

It caused so much grief here that I stood back, gave him a multiplication square

and let him use that since I guessed that the constant exposure would reinforced the correct answers over time.

It did. I left him be for at least four months with that tatty bit of paper LOL just adding some interactive games I made to take some of the monotony out of the learn by heart process in the meantime.

I can make some more if you need them and if she likes them, although if she fancies it they are really easy to make by yourself and I found the more Son of Thor was involved in the making of the game the more he played it and the faster he learned the content.

He is more or less fine on his TTs now, tends to arrive at the answer when doing long multiplication before I do.

Mind you...I never really did get the hang of them, it was all so tedious and there was not enough frequent recycling, more like ticked off the the "to do" list and lo and behold I forgot them again.

Deb said...

Well here's my take on it.

Mathematics and arithmetic are two different things. Mathematics is about the concepts - arithmetic is about counting, and that's the bit that times tables comes into. And you can be good at one without being good at the other.

You can be fantastic at maths (not just good, but brilliant) without being quick at arithmetic. One of the most gifted mathematicians I know asks her son if she needs a quick answer to a bit of arithmetic - and he provides the answer within seconds.

I don't know if you ever look at my blog, but I posted last week about my 15yo's latest GCSE results. He took maths GCSE in January. He would be in fourth year at secondary school if he was at school. He got an A* - he scored 153/160 on the first paper, and 199/200 on the second. He's also doing OU maths courses and scoring highly (mostly 90s with the occasional dip into the high 80s) on his assignments.

He never did learn his times tables.

So do I think you have to learn times tables by rote? Well, yes, if you want to learn them at all. I don't think there's really any other way to do it. I mean, you can use all sorts of things to make it less boring, more engaging, less tedious, but in the end, they're just dressing up the rote learning. But I don't think that times tables are a necessary evil, because I don't think they're necessary.

Whether you want to go there or not is personal preference, I suppose.

Blank said...

I tried these multiplication tables crossword puzzles with my kid. What I like about them is that they are not timed, and have strong feedback, and hints. (right click on the PDF icon to download them)

We have also played multiplication wars with cards.

kellyi said...

My daughter was in the top set for maths at school (then aged seven.) She hated it and when I de-reg'd her I found out why. She had been completely coasting through it. She couldn't even do basic maths, never mind the complicated stuff her group were doing.

She still gets in a state from time to time, but I've learnt to take deep breaths, not panic alongside her and to go back a stage at what ever is freaking her out.

We recently did this with multiplication, going back to a 100 square and looking at patterns. She has been messing about with multiplication in bed at night, with paper planes being sent down the stairs with the six timestable written on them.

I never did well at maths in school, so I see this as an opportunity for us to learn together. My son on the other hand is a natural maths kid, and when I asked him about this he told me he sees maths as pictures in his head!

Hope this helps, this is the longest comment I've ever made on a blog!

K said...

Thankyou all for taking the time to leave some comments - its really helpful hearing some other perspectives, and interesting too.

A now has a multiplication square- don't know why I resisted this for so long, apart from that when I was at school it would have been seen as cheating. Shows how some rules just stick in your head until you actually think about them! I'm annoyed at myself for not realising this sooner. Anyway, she's working with it and testing herself so hopefully that will help.

She's not really fussed about computer games (although I enjoyed playing yours Sarah!)but they're good to dip into for a change sometimes. I really liked the crosswords too, hadn't seen them before.

Thanks for sharing your take on it Deb, I do look at your blog and am usually in awe of what you and your boys achieve! I read your comment out to A as I think it contained a few things she could do with hearing, she's so quick to say she's 'rubbish' at maths when she's not at all, just struggles with some aspects.

I love the image of paper planes with times tables on them flying around the house Kellyi - maybe thats the way to go! I'm sure that would appeal to A :o)

danny said...

Games are interesting to learn the times tables. But theres is more to it. It is important to choose which table you want to practice and to combine your table with its reverse table.

In NineTown the numbers are linked with a picture and those pictures are given a fixed place in a house as a visual aide to learn the multiplication tables.

K said...

Thanks for the links Danny, we'll check them out.