[Numeracy 78] how to teach multiplication tables.

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Carol King cking at lyon.k12.nv.us
Tue Jan 26 18:03:09 EST 2010

Hello, my name is Carol King. I am in my 4th year teaching at an
adult high school/GED preparation center. I work with students
completing their high school diplomas and students preparing to take the
GED. I spent 19 years teaching high school in the areas of Social
Studies and English at a rural school that became almost a suburban
school in Fernley, Nevada (about 30 miles east of Reno). I love teaching
struggling students. In this job if it is taught in high school then I
get to teach it; luckily my flexible accreditation kept my experience
varied which means I have experience in teaching 90 % of what we do
here. I am glad to be among so many people who have had difficulties
with math, but are over coming it to help others because I do have
difficulty with it. I agree with one of our members who said there is
sort of a secret glee now as I am improving, but I still have days when
math and I are not friends.

A lot of us are talking about how to teach the multiplication tables.
I am an adult who has not mastered it. In one teacher training I
discovered why. I see math as words. It never occurred to me to treat
them as pieces I could rearrange. If you say "3 x 4 =" I literally see
in my head: "three times four is what?". I am already at close to my
seven-item short-term memory limit and because I struggle with the
concept I really only deal well with three things. Therefore, when I go
to look for the answer I have to lose some information. As you probably
noted anything I lose really messes up the memorization. I was held in
at recess and had a special class to teach me the tables, but it did not
work. What works? Having me memorize the lists of multiples: 2,4,6,8,...
or 7, 14, 21,... I cannot express how much faster I am today because
when I have a bad math day and cannot pull up the table I want I can
generate it in under 15 seconds using lists. Someone who does math well
typically sees 3x4 as *** *** *** *** (sets of things they can
manipulate, so of course they can see its 12; I don't care how you work
with the words "three" and "four" it is not obviously 12. Which by the
way I see as "twelve", and that's not 12 in a math sense.). It is taking
a lot of effort and desire on my part to change the way I see a number
in my head.

Secondly I have noted that some of my adults who have been
unsuccessful at memorization of the multiplication table have a
particular eye movement pattern. When searching for the answer their
eyes look up to their left, down to their right and over to the bottom
left and back up to the left. They do not access the upper right at all.
Based on eye-movement theories they are not accessing the part of their
recall centers that deal with abstractions like math, but they are
looking heavily for physical clues. Students who have this movement or
who are unsuccessful with the standard or list method may learn it if
you try this:

Touch the index finger of one hand to the thumb of the other hand and
say the first number of the list such as 7 (be sure the motion forces
them to cross over their center line with the index finger that is doing
the touching.) We are activating touch, sound, and muscles to aid memory
and forcing both halves of the brain to work at the same time. Now
touch the index finger to index finger and say the next number in the
list "14." Have them go back and forth between the two until their eyes
focus front and center when they recall the number. Then add the third
finger and number "21"... Depending on the student I will go up to 3 or
four numbers done in this way. Then I will ask them to tell me what 3
times seven is using their finger touch. (The student touches the third
finger and announces the answer; YES it is okay to count up to it by
touching the other fingers on the way. Yes as they are learning them it
is okay to use addition to find the next number in the list if you
forgot it.). IF they struggle it is back to touch say seven touch say
14, touch say 21 until their eyes are focused forward for each answer.
Then ask the random multiplications again. Once they can do all the list
in random order and their eyes stay focused forward I add a couple more
numbers, reviewing all each time as we count up, then I ask the table
questions in random order and so on until the list up to ten is done.
People, who have tried all their lives to memorize something like the
sevens, get the list memorized in less than ten minutes.

That is a really quick version. Please feel free to email me with
questions or comments.

Have a great day,

Carol King


Fernley Adult Education Center

775-575-3409 cking at lyon.k12.nv.us <mailto:cking at lyon.k12.nv.us>

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