Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Times Table Trouble

Is your child struggling with math? Confusion about basic multiplication facts is often the root of the problem.

Success with higher level math skills hinges on having memorized the basic multiplication facts. Working multi-digit multiplication problems is a slow and frustrating process if the student must pause to calculate the product of single digits. Division also relies on a thorough mastery of the basic facts, and you may as well forget about understanding terms like "least common denominator" and "greatest common factor" until the times tables have been committed to memory.

Some children will gradually learn the multiplication table in the course of their daily arithmetic lessons. Others will require some targeted drill and daily practice before mastering these facts. Fortunately, it isn't difficult to find homeschooling resources for teaching the times tables.

At one point, following a particularly nonproductive arithmetic session, I simply stopped doing our regular math curriculum with two of my children. We concentrated on learning the times tables for several weeks. When this was accomplished, we picked up our curriculum where we had left off. The difference was a breath of fresh air. With the times tables firmly in command, the associated concepts finally began to make sense to them.

Here's how we did it.

Print or buy a set of flashcards. The flash cards are to evaluate, not to teach or practice. (There are far more interesting practice methods.) Also, print a multiplication table and post it in a prominent place.

The times tables seem designed to provide the initial success that is so encouraging to some students. Start with "the zeroes"! Teach or review the rule: Any number multiplied by zero is zero. If he can answer within a couple of seconds, he has mastered that fact. Chances are, he will demonstrate mastery of all of the zero facts immediately. If not, provide some fun ways to practice just these facts. There is no lack of multiplication games on the Internet. Choose a few, step back, and let him play some of them every day. Occasionally, get out the flashcards and assess your student's progress.

When mastery of the zeroes has been demonstrated, have the child shade those facts on his multiplication table. In the process of shading the table, the student will begin to understand helpful patterns. For example, he will see that he gets to shade a row AND a column for each family of facts he has memorized. While the quantity of facts to memorize may look daunting at first, he will soon realize that he only has to learn half of them, because if he knows what 6x4 equals, he also knows what 4x6 is.

When the zeroes have been shaded, proceed to the ones, the twos, and so forth. Help your child by first teaching a rule or shortcut for each fact family:

Zeroes: Any number multiplied by zero is zero.

Ones: Any number multiplied by one is that number.

Twos: Any number multiplied by two is double that number. (For some reason, "doubles" are often easy for children to understand.)

Threes: "Three, six, nine, twelve, fifteen, eighteen, twenty-one . . . twenty-four, twenty-seven, thirty, we're all done!" (Sing to the tune of "Jingle Bells".)

Fours: Double the double. (For 4x6, start with a fact you already know: 2x6. Then, double the answer.)

Fives: Count by fives.

Sixes: Double the three facts. (For 6x8, start with a fact you already know: 3x6. Then, double the answer.)

Sevens: Leave these for last, because there is no easy way to memorize them. But, when the rest of the facts have been learned, the sevens will have all been mastered!

Eights: Double the four facts. (For 8x7, start with a fact you already know: 4x7. Then, double the answer.)

Nines: The sum of the digits of each nines fact equals nine. To multiply a number by nine, subtract one from that number to get the first digit in your answer. The second digit is a number that equals nine when added to the first digit. For example, to do 7x9, subtract one from seven to get the first digit in your answer: six. You would add a three to six to equal nine, so the second digit in the answe is three. The answer is sixty three.

Another way is to hold both hands up in front of you with the palms facing out. To do 7x9, start at the pinkie of the left hand and count over seven fingers. Bend the seventh finger down. (This would be the index finger of the right hand.) All of the fingers BEFORE the bent finger are the first digit in the answer and all of the fingers AFTER the bent finger are the second digit in the answer.)

Tens: Any number times ten is that number with a zero on the end.

Elevens: Any single digit number times eleven has that number for both digits in the answer.

It can be exciting to see those facts gradually conquered! When the entire times table has been shaded in, your child probably has the background he needs to return to your regularly-scheduled math curriculum. If your kids are like mine, they might still dislike math, but it will no longer feel like an impossible task.

Is "dislike" an understatement for how they feel about math? Find out if they have "math anxiety".

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