## How to Conquer the Times Table, Part 2

Photo of Eeva times 6, by Eric Horst, via flickr.

The question is common on parenting forums:

My daughter is in 4th grade. She has been studying multiplication in school for nearly a year, but she still stumbles over the facts and counts on her fingers. How can I help her?

Many people resort to flashcards and worksheets in such situations, and computer games that flash the math facts are quite popular with parents. I recommend a different approach: Challenge your student to a joint experiment in mental math. Over the next two months, without flashcards or memory drill, how many math facts can the two of you learn together?

We will use the world’s oldest interactive game — conversation — to explore multiplication patterns while memorizing as little as possible.

## How to Conquer the Times Table, Part 1

Photo of Evil Erin times 5 (and dog times 2), via flickr.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for any middle-elementary math student is to master the multiplication facts. It can seem like an unending task to memorize so many facts and be able to pull them out of mental storage in any order on demand. Too often, the rote aspect of such memory work overwhelms students, eclipsing their view of the principles behind the math. Yet rote memory is not enough: A student may be able to recite the times tables perfectly and still be reduced to counting on fingers in the middle of a long division problem.

We will use the world’s oldest interactive game — conversation — to learn the multiplication facts one bite at a time. But first, let’s take some time to think about what multiplication really means.

## Game: Times Tac Toe

Photo by jma.work via flickr.

I’ve been working on a book of math games for homeschoolers and other teachers. I hope to get it published later this year, but the editing drags on. Would anybody like to draw the illustrations?

Meanwhile, here’s a 2-player game your students may enjoy…

## Set Up

Print out a blank times table chart and place it between the players. Each player will need a colored marker, and the colors must be different enough to be easily distinguished.

Remove the jokers and kings from a deck of poker-style playing cards, but leave the jacks (= 11) and queens (= 12). Shuffle the deck, and place the stack face down as a draw pile.

## Quotable: Times Tables Are Not Math

Important note: times tables are not math. Math doesn’t need to be made fun; it already is fun. Memorizing your times tables is a rote activity, it requires a fair bit of repetition for most, and it may need to be made fun. Just saying.

It’s a great game! Do click over to Dan’s blog and check it out:

And while we’re on the topic of times tables, Maria posted an article, too:

## Math Facts: 5 Minutes a Day

Y of x reminded me about one of my old favorite websites for math fact practice with a purpose:

5-10 minutes of daily practice will cement the math facts in your student’s mind, while at the same time doing a good deed. For each correct answer, a Free Rice sponsor donates a very small amount of rice to feed hungry people worldwide through the UN World Food Program.

Even very small amounts of rice add up. Since Free Rice started in 2007, its sponsors have bought more than 63 billion grains of rice, just by paying for one right answer click at a time.

You and your students can practice other topics as well:

## Math Warm-Up: Today Is February 4×3×2×1

[Feature photo above by Tom@HK.]

One of my favorite warm-up exercises for Math Club is “Today is ______.” Each student invents one or more mathematical expressions for today’s date and writes his or her favorite on the board for all to admire. Answers range from lazy (24×1 — at least it’s an excuse to talk about identity elements) to unnecessarily repetitive (1+1+1+…), but we usually get a few gems as well.