On knowing the Times Tables

On a quiet Sunday morning, it was far from quiet on twitter.

Just one of the discussions going on concerned times tables and were responses to Jo Boaler’s well known views on times tables and timed tests in particular. You can read her views on this in the TES article that resparked the storm.

Personally, I believe the fluent recall of times tables is useful — but also believe that ‘times tables’ are a distraction from what is actually being tested here and that is an aspect of an individual’s sense of number.

I was ‘taught’ the times tables in the late 1960's. I can vividly remember chanting the tables in the classroom. Those seated at an ‘actual’ table would stand and chant and we had regular tests. I don’t think I was confident in my tables until I was well into my twenties. I understand what it is like to fail.

As I became a teacher of mathematics, I thought about this more. and in my opinion, it is the very format of the multiplication sum and the ‘tables’ that adds a barrier to the learning of these number relationships.

Regardless of the understanding of multiplication, or repeated addition or whatever, learners still have this ‘vision’ of the sums all laid out in a table that they are supposed to remember. you have to write down the time sign, the equals sign, or fill in the gap in the right way.

And I think that provides a block. I wonder if this is something that has been researched.

So, I did something about it, and in the early 1990's came up with a different way to test whether students knew their times tables — or more to the point, knew the multiplicative relationship between two numbers, where the numbers ranged between 1 and 12!

(after all, pupils need to learn ‘number bonds to 10, 20, 100 etc’ not ‘the addition tables’ and a list of addition sums)

Take a look either here for the UK or here for the USA and try the tests out. There is still timing involved — because I do think the quick recall does help — but in my opinion, the stress is removed as is the barrier of the times table format itself.

It would be great to know — either here or preferably on the feedback in the stores — whether you found the tests useful.

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