I Hate Times Tables!

Written on the 18 April 2016

This cry will have been heard in many households.  It can be a trigger for distress and many heated arguments between parents and children.  What is it about times tables which causes such anguish in students through their schooling and are they so important that we need expend energy worrying?

Opinions are varied, as is advice, on the importance of learning tables and how best this can be achieved.  Most experts will say that having a good sense of number is a necessary foundation to working within the field of Mathematics.  This good sense of number includes basic number facts in the times tables, addition and subtraction facts to at least twenty and a sound understanding of place value in numbers. 

When recalling the facts is speedy and almost automatic, new concepts can be introduced and the focus is just that, not also on the basic number work involved in the concept.

An example is when introducing fractions of whole numbers. Understanding the concept focusses on the total number of groups involved and then how many groups are being highlighted.  While some students will quickly understand the procedure, others will be bogged down with the basic number fact work and the new concept gets lost in the process.  So, if we are looking at 3/4 of 36, we have four groups of 9 and we are interested in 3 of these.  Those students who don't have good recall of their times tables will still be working out how many are in each of the four groups while others have finished the entire question.

If your child is one of those who struggles with knowing their times tables and other basic number facts, what can you do?  Is there a quick fix which parents can use?  Unfortunately no, but there is help everywhere which parents and students can access.  Varying the ways you present the tables to your child is essential because they need to know them when they hear a question, when they see it written down, when they see it in number sentences, when they see it in a diagram and all the other areas of life when this knowledge is needed.

Beware those who recommend only one way to learn. Understanding the concept of the tables is the obvious starting point. Using concrete aides, and anything from pebbles to coloured cubes will do, show what three lots of six means.  What does forty nine divided into seven equal groups look like?  If this basic understanding is in place, there is always a fall-back position if the fact cannot automatically be recalled.

From there, branch out into all those resources which offer help with learning the facts.  

  • Use a chart on the toilet door
  • Use chanting tapes which can become fun activities for the whole family
  • Use the multitude of online , interactive games and activities , especially those which retain the child's personal results so they have feedback on their progress
  • Check whether your school subscribes to some of the well-designed programs, which support the learning of times tables as well as many other Mathematical concepts
  • Create your own progress chart and provide positive feedback to your child for every milestone they pass, no matter how little

Helping your child learn their tables is not an easy task but it is time extremely well spent.  Aim to make it a positive, fun and short routine.  Repeat activities over and over so that success is achieved, even if only on a small level.  Nothing beats one on one contact for a learner so value the role you have undertaken while helping your child.

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