Memorizing basic multiplication facts has gotten a bad rep. "Drill and kill." Teachers feel so much pressure to believe that teaching Common Core Standards means only teaching word problems and higher order thinking.
We have to be careful to make sure our students have the basic knowledge they need to tackle those tough math challenges.
Fact fluency is an essential building block. Students trying to multiply decimals, find equivalent fractions, or solve algebraic equations will need to know their basic multiplication facts.
Memorizing multiplication facts is a 3rd grade Common Core standard.
Multiply and divide within 100.
If you teach grades beyond 3rd you may have felt frustration when students didn't have the facts memorized. You already have your hands full teaching your own grade level standards, but your students will be more successful if you encourage them to memorize their facts.
As an intervention teacher, I've worked with 3rd through 6th graders to encourage multiplication fact fluency. Today, I'd like to share some steps I've taken that have motivated my students. Hopefully you'll find a tidbit that can inspire you and your students.
First, students need to know what it means to have something memorized.
Some teachers set a specific amount of time. "Answer within 3 snaps."
I usually ask basic addition facts or basic multiplication facts. What is 2 + 2? What is 3 x 0? They answer immediately. Then I'll ask more challenging facts. What is 6 x 7? What is 7 x 8?
I tell them that I want them to be able to answer all questions as quickly as they answered 2 + 2.
Next, students need a small set of facts to focus on.
"You need to memorize your facts." "Spend 5 minutes a day practicing multiplication." These goals aren't specific enough.
I use timed tests to set a starting point. I have them take their zeros, ones, and twos and they feel like it is an eternity before they can turn them in. I tell them I want them to know all their facts so well that they can finish any timed test early. Students work their way through the 3s, 4s, and beyond until they can't do it in the set time. This is now their goal.
I was at a training recently where the presenter said that people surveyed about why they hated math in school said it was due to timed tests. All I could think was, "Those teachers were doing it wrong."
If you think timed tests are motivation enough for kids to memorize their facts, kids are going to see them as a source of stress. If you use timed test as a tool to teach kids how to set an obtainable goal and reach it, they start begging to take tests. Seriously, I've had it happen.
I keep a clipboard where I record their timed test results. My most recent group of 3rd graders had 20 students. With that many test results to communicate, I created a little PowerPoint where I displayed their names next to their next goal. The quiet, "Yes!"was often heard when posted as they learned they passed a test. I used the See Me section to choose groups that would work with me and get extra tutoring or to give a test to kids early if they landed on an easy goal like 5s.
You can download this simple PowerPoint for FREE here.
I use timed tests from my Super Surfer Multiplication Packet.
As teachers, we know why things are important. It is easy to forget to take a moment and let the kids know why what they are learning is important.
Give them real life examples of when knowing how to multiply will help them. Use examples involving things they love. If they love football, use touch downs and field goals to show how knowing threes and sevens can come in handy. If they have a favorite snack, show them how to figure out what a few bags would cost.
I find the most motivating example is telling them that you want to help them spend less time on homework. I show them a fourth grade multiplication problem. I write two on the board. We time how long it takes us to multiply each number with their fingers. Then we time how long it takes me to do the problem since I have the answer memorized.
This three minute conversation sets a tone and makes a difference.
Separate your multiplication supplies into categories. Set up a location where students can find the supplies they need.
Last year, I used a milk crate with files. I had a file for each multiple that contained games, flash cards, and more.
This year, I set up cubbies that contain tests, flashcard printouts, and multiplication charts.
I also set up a drawer for each multiple. Inside the drawers, I put games into ziplock bags with all the needed pieces to cut down on transition times. I also have drawers where I keep number cards and flashcards.
I make the students responsible for getting their own supplies, tests, and games. They also are responsible for keeping it clean and organized.
I'm lucky enough as an intervention teacher to focus on one skill at a time. Homeroom teachers don't have that luxury.
Can you set aside 5 minutes once or twice a week for a timed test?
When I was a homeroom teacher, my fact fluency practice was an early finisher activity. If a student finished math early, they had to choose an activity that matched their goal. If the whole class finished something early, we had time for math games.
Teaching the students how to choose an activity that matches their goal makes 'math game time' meaningful and effective.
While this blog post is very long, now that I have this system in place, it is very little work for me. I just grade tests that are finished and record who passed. They get their tests. They choose their games. They find a partner. The routine makes my life easier.
Study your facts. What does that mean?
Students need to be explicitly taught how to study.
Here is a simple procedure:
1. Students know their goal. Let's say it is 7s.
2. Students write the multiples of seven out on a white board using strategies like repeated addition.
3. Students try to remember the first three answer. They repeated the numbers over and over. Then they erase and see if they can write them without counting.
4. Students play a game like Speed trying to answer those three facts faster than their partner. When ready, they add another multiple.
Let students find a study plan that works for them.
|Two students combine white board practice with my multiples cards to quiz themselves.|
Practicing facts can be boring if they have to practice the same way every time. Try to teach and gather options that make it feel like they aren't doing the same thing over and over.
White board practice, bump games, puzzles, computer games, board games, dice games, card games
We've all heard that the best way to learn something is to teach it. More than once, I've watched a child say what I swear is the exact same thing I've said to a student 50 times only to hear the student respond, "Oh. I get it now." They speak each others language and they listen to each other.
If you create a routine that involves working with partners that have the same goal, you create an environment for invaluable peer teaching.
Someone may walk into your room and see kids playing math games and think nothing exciting is happening. You'll see a child teach another the nines finger trick while they play a game together and swell with pride.
I had a 6th grader last year that finally found a strategy that worked for him to learn his multiplication facts. I took every opportunity I could to have him play teacher to others in that intervention group. He began to see himself as successful and smart as his classmates valued his help. Encouraging him to collaborate and teach his classmates helped to change his self image and made him more willing to take risks when I had him in other groups later that year.
My first year of teaching, I learned that I set the tone of the class. My first full time position was in first. I could get mad when the floor was a mess and grumpily demand that they clean it up or I could tell them we were going to have a contest to see who could find the most garbage.
Drill and kill. I hate when I hear that. It brings me back to 3rd grade at my Catholic elementary where 40 of us sat there in our neat little rows chanting "3 times 1 is 3. 3 times 2 is 6....."
Here are a few products I've used to make multiplication fun.
My Super Surfer Multiplication has games, timed tests, and a motivational system. You can read more about it in this blog post.
I love playing Multiplication Cover Up with kids.
I encourage them to think about strategy as they place their pieces.
I purchased a set of Bump Games from Games 4 Learning that the students LOVE to play.
I teach my students several multiplication card games. I also encourage them to play these at home. I created my Simple Math Games: Multiplication and Division to share with families.
These multiplication puzzles sat in a drawer unused for years. Now that I've organized my games and put them in the multiples drawers, they are one of the most popular games for tactile learners.
Students love writing multiples and sorting multiples using my Multiples Posters and Activities.
You can read a blog post about using multiples to memorize facts here.
|A student found number books and got a multiplication chart and practiced her goal by making the answers.|
I love creating new ways to learn. So do my students.
I let them create their own games when they are inspired as long as they can tell me
how it will help them reach their goal.
Time using technology can be invaluable when monitored and observed. Students will try and ask, "Can I play..." I just remind them that they need to work on their specific goal.
One of my favorite sites is Multiplication.com. I have to teach the students how to use it to reach their goals and not just to play a game because it is fun. I created a class website using Weebly.
I've link directly to the part of the site that has them pick a fact to practice.
I've also taught them how to use the playlist drop down on the embedded YouTube videos. They are only allowed to watch the video that matches their goal. Some students really are musical and are motivated to pass the test partially so they can watch the next video.
There are so many ways to celebrate. Setting obtainable goals means they will reach multiple goals.
Congratulate them. Tell them you are proud of them. Give them a pat on the back. Teach them to congratulate each other. Clap for them. Say things like, "I knew you could do it."
I use my Super Surfer Multiplication reward system and give students a surf board to hang up when they meet one of their goals.
"Do I get to keep these?!?" Something as simple as a paper Surf Board on a metal ring brings such joy to even my 6th graders.
That feeling of being successful is addicting. Kids pass a couple of tests, next thing I know, kids are literally begging me to take tests.
"Well, I was wasn't planning on it, but..."
"Can I take one too?!"
"Go ahead and get a test."
Those are the moments that make me love teaching.