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Author Bio: My name is Rich Glascodine, and I am the creator of the YouTube channel Maths From Scratch. In this guest blog I am going to explain my philosophy behind how I help my students learn their times tables. How do I know when my students have achieved this? Simply, students can recall the times table facts in under a second. Perfectly.
Now, before I begin, I must say that I am an avid believer in the fact that students simply must, (MUST!) know their times tables perfectly, off by heart, if they are ever going to find maths easy. This post is about fine tuning the way they are taught, and how, by using my YouTube channel and knowing about the Maths From Scratch Method, times tables can be learnt with the minimum of fuss.
Having thought long and hard about how I might explain my method, I reckoned that the best approach is to explain it through the eyes of a parent/teacher. I will describe the process from first encounter with a student whose times tables need working on, through to helping the said student (whoever that maybe) achieve times table enlightenment! All the while explaining the method and rationale behind the way I do things. Hopefully you as parents and tutors/teachers can use elements of my practice and use it in your own teaching.
So, what is the Maths from Scratch method?
The biggest feature of my system is that all the timetable facts must be learnt by the student off by heart. Students need to be able to recall the facts without any type of ‘crutch’ at all. They just simply recall them as standalone facts. 9 lots of 9 is 81. That is it. No messing. So if your student is using a method to calculate the answer, I would suggest to them that they stop trying to work it out, and simply try to learn it as a nice little standalone fact instead.
There is little wonder that some pupils get disheartened when learning their timetables, as it could be that their experience of them is as little mental arithmetic challenges that must be done at light speed. Which for anyone is quite demanding.
I like to explain this to my students using a little analogy. Once you have been told that the capital city of France is Paris – you make a mental note to memorise it. You do not suddenly go charging to find the nearest map, or open a map app on your phone to try and work it out every time. That would be nonsense. Yet, students will do this over and over again with the times table facts, unless they are trained not to.
The very first thing I do with a new student is verbally fire at them times table questions, and ask them to answer. I say to them if they don’t know an answer – rather than working it out – just ask them to say “don’t know”. Encouragement here is good too – explain that you are doing this in an effort to make them a times table ninja, and that this is the best interests of their maths education. Ensure you go through all the facts and make a note of the ones that the student knows off by heart already, and the ones that need to be ‘trained’. In fact ‘brain training’ is a good term for this process, as this is exactly what we doing.
Learning the times tables facts now becomes a memory recall challenge, and this is the approach that I adopt when doing this with my students.
The method now has two strands to it – Firstly, the act of memorising the facts with an emphasis on helping students remember these over the long term, and secondly, actually practising the recall of the times table facts. The end result of all this is to be able to recall all the facts in under a second. This really is possible and I have had success using this system with my students. Many of them are really surprised that learning your times tables could be so easy.
Let’s look at these two strands seperately. Firstly, the memory game.
Now, there are a lot of times table facts for the student to remember. If you want them to learn the basic set (up to your 12 x Table) there are 144 separate facts to memorise. Breaking these down into smaller chunks does then becomes a necessity. However, the situation is not as grim as first thought, as in my experience students know quite a few off by heart anyway (tens, elevens, twos) so this will radically reduce the number of facts that need retraining. If students are at the beginning of their times table learning journey (and how exciting is that for them!) they can start right from the very beginning learning them in this way.
I only ever get my students learning 4 at once so they never feel overwhelmed, and we only move on when I am satisfied that the first four have been mastered. If you have a quick look at the Maths From Scratch channel here [https://www.youtube.com/user/MathsfromScratch/playlists?flow=grid&view=50&shelf_id=8] (and Subscribe! – thanks!) you will notice playlists that have already split each times table in these 3 groups of 4. The following thumbnails explain all.
As you can see the these videos have split up the 12 x Table into 3 easily managed groups.
Your student now has some timetable facts that he needs to remember and practice recalling. The next step is to find the video with that fact in it, and then just simply watch it. Let’s have a look at this video as an example:
Click here to watch this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uM8SKAUAfyo&feature=youtu.be
As you can see in this short video, the four times table facts cycle round with answers appearing on the screen after a set number of seconds. All the student has to do is to say the answer before the green answer appears. If a pupil forgets, or cannot recall the answer quick enough, all the student has to do is remember and repeat the right answer when the question next pops up on the screen. If a student watches this video, say, 5 x a day for a week, the facts have a better chance of staying put. Not to mention that they are, at the same time practising their recall. As these videos only last approx a minute, in total that is only 5 to 10 minutes a day that your student will be working on their times tables. I think you will agree that that is not that much of an arduous task.
Now, the target is for our student to be able to recall them under 1 second. The next stage is mercifully simple. If we want to get good at recalling under a second, we need to practice recalling them under a second. You can use the Maths from Scratch videos to practice the quick recall as for each group there are two speeds of video. The slow speed gives the student 5 seconds, while the fast speed gives only 1. The secret to all of this is getting your student to practice little and often. Emphasise that watching these short videos many times a day is really all they need to do, to remember the times table facts. Practice, Practice, Practice!
For some times tables facts, the process of watching the videos and making a mental effort to memorise will be enough, but what the about those pesky ones that don’t seem to want to stick. Our brains are stubborn and some facts just do not want to play ball.
The last technique I want to discuss with you is one that I use to help embed those pesky facts into a students long term memory. Thankfully, this technique is also easy.
Get the student to write out the facts that are being stubborn. Yep, write them out. That is it. Now the motto of this is little and often. We do not want our honoured student to spend hours writing out the facts similar to a punishment. Far from it. The beauty of this method is that they do it in short, sharp bursts similar to the watching of the videos. I recommend writing them in blocks of 5, say 10 times a day. Not a lot of time at all. It is this act of ‘creating’ the knowledge time and time again, that really does help the student acquire the facts at a much quicker rate. The first couple of times the student may have to be ‘told’ the answer again (the amount of times varies from pupil to pupil in my experience) but if they strive to write them out from memory, they will be successful. Again, I can’t stress enough the importance of little and often.
Practising times table recall does not have to be limited to the videos on the Maths From Scratch channel either. Any online game, or App based game can be used. In fact, with enough practice the student will perform better at these anyway, as they have been aiming towards recalling them in under a second with the Maths From Scratch videos. My videos are a good tool to reliably measure a students recall speed. Fantastic to ensure success for school based competitions!
By using this multiple attack strategy, and helping the student realise that timetable acquisition is actually a memory game, and not a mathematical one, pupils will be able to achieve excellent times table recall with a minimum of fuss. When students can do that, well, this when the fun in maths really starts! Good Luck!