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Side effects

I teach two remedial prealgebra classes.

One of the biggest hangups for these kids is that they never learned their basic multiplication tables. It’s hard to develop any sort of number sense if you can’t even make a quick guess at how many Xs are here:

X X X X X X X
X X X X X X X
X X X X X X X
X X X X X X X

So, to help them out, I let them use a multiplication table on their quizzes. But, to help make it a learning experience, they have to make their own.

And not just once, but every time. It’s become a ritual – before I pass out the test, I have them clear their desks, give them the blanks, and give them a bit of time1 to fill them out and then give them the tests.

I’ll eventually have to teach them to be able to do this on a piece of blank paper, so that they can repeat the process with the scratch paper they get for their standardized tests in a couple of months.

There is a surprising fringe benefit to to all of this, though. These kids are the low kids. A large part of their lack of academic success is due to their inability to focus or settle down. It’s always been a problem that the minutes before a test are a struggle in setting a quiet tone. This alleviates all of that – I don’t have to ask them to be quiet, they do it automatically as they fill out their tables, and then by the time I’m ready to pass out the test they’re already focused and ready to go.

1 The amount of time varies across the year, and is based on a bit of teacher subterfuge. I tell them I’m going to start the test when 80% of them are done with the table. I actually start passing it out when 80% are about 80% done. This adds just a little bit of pressure, but has resulted in their times to fill this out dropping from about 5 minutes at the beginning of the year to about 2 minutes by the end of the first semester.

1. Simon Job | January 23, 2010 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

A nice simple idea.

Last year, I gave my classes a A5 page with class expectations, bell times, multiplication grid and short number line (-10 to 10) to stick in the front of their books. At the start of the year we look at the multiplication grid to see how it works and practise using it.

It makes sense that I should be looking at the grid with them more regularly and prompt them with this aid in tests.

2. Mr. K | January 23, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

I used to make one for them to use.

I’m finding though, that repeated practice at filling it out gives them a much better number sense, and allows them to develop those mental shortcuts for numbers they just don’t remember.

A lot of kids also draw number lines on the back, of various sizes.

3. Burt | January 24, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

Mr. K,
I like this idea! What a creative way to get them to practice the multiplication facts, to focus before a test, and to provide support on a low-level deficiency so they can perform better on a test of current materialâ€”all at the same time. Beautiful. I am throwing this into my bag of tricks.

4. Elizabeth | January 30, 2010 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

Mr. K – This is another blindingly simple yet powerful idea. Plus, in addition to getting them to practice their basic math facts, it helps boost their confidence that they have the skills they need to do well on a test, i.e., STEP 1 – Get organized. STEP 2 – Make a “what do we know?” list.

I’m going to recommend that we try this!

5. Mr. W | February 16, 2010 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

I give out those Mad Minutes to my students during state testing time. The first time I gave them a minute they all died. I then went to a minute fifteen. I think I will go back to one minute this year.

6. Mimi | July 5, 2010 at 9:59 am | Permalink

This might be fun for your kids to do: multi-player multiplication games! I have not tried this in my class, but I love the idea that I can take my kids down to the lab and set them up in groups, pitted against each other.

(I tried it myself at home and accidentally beat out three other kids. Oops. But, if even I got so competitive while playing multiplication games, and I’m 28………)

PS. I have a weakness for the Penguin Jump Multiplication game. Really fun!!

7. Rhonda Russell | January 2, 2011 at 2:22 am | Permalink

Another way to practice the multiplication table that I read about was to play multiplication war. Each player pulls two cards and whomever has the higher product wins the hand.

8. Miss A | February 16, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

Mr. K,

That’s a pretty cool idea! I will definitely utilize that when I begin my teaching career.