With recent advances in both neurosciences and learning psychologies, researchers have honed in on how we can effectively learn. However, it hasn’t come to pass yet that this new knowledge has translated to the classroom, and it may be some time before we see teachers implement methods that embrace these learnings.
Times tables are facts that are not really taught well at school. It takes a couple of years for children to learn them with automaticity, and usually this is achieved by rote. While there is a lot of negative research on rote learning, we have to accept the fact that in school time, this is the most common method teachers will use to get kids to learn their multiplication products. Some of the main issues with rote learning your times table include:
1. It locks you into learning in series. Quite often if a child is asked, “What is 5 x 7?” they have to start at 1 x 7 and work their way up to 5 x 7. It’s like learning the words in a song – you have to sing the lines before the line you are looking for to get it right.
2. There is increasing evidence it doesn’t stick in your long term memory. This article on rote learning limitations from the Conversation is a great brief on the issue.
In practicality though, the latest research shows that if you learn using both fast (visual/spatial) and slow (strategic) processes, you will have a greater understanding and application of the knowledge. Brain researchers (in particular, Park & Brannon, 2013) have found that the students who are most successful with number problems are those who are using different brain pathways – one that is numerical and symbolic and the other that involves more intuitive and spatial reasoning. Fluency without Fear by Dr Jo Boaler from YouCubed at Stanford University is also a wonderful read specific to learning mathematics in primary years. YouCubed is not affiliated with Bendy Brains, but is highly recommended for further reading.
Real Times Tables – Make It Stick! Kickstarter
We know from anecdotal experience that placing educational charts in highly visible areas of your home are a great way for the information to sink in – this is nothing new. The child is in a relaxed frame of mind while viewing (eating breakfast, on the toilet, hanging out on their beds) so the information sinks in faster and with strength, and those hooks can be carried back to school and used. There are plenty of multiplication charts around, but all they do is list the times tables, or use a matrix of multiplication facts that don’t relate to the consequential numbers on the axes. Any child staring at them will just see a list of numbers. In order to increase understanding in the student we need to highlight the patterns in times tables in reference to a common base, so they can see the links between the times tables.
The Real Times Tables- Make It Stick! posters uses visual and spatial recognition to reinforce the rote learning and strategic work the children are doing at school. It is an A1 sturdy poster with a grid of numbers mapped 1-150. 1 starts at the bottom left in rows of 10, and increases up to 150 at the top right. As you increase numbers, you stack higher, just like the physical world works.
Using a clamp system the child can pick a times table – say 5 – and put a pre-printed A1 clear film over the top of the grid. This shows in pattern and tacets in the times table visually. Each times table has its own pattern.
This way the child builds up a mental model in their mind of the visual pattern of the table. It increases understanding of how the tables work, and therefore transfers the data to their long term memory. Each set comes with a grid base, a 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 times table overlay, and a prime number overlay as a bonus. The layers can be built up: if you put the 4x table over the 2x table the child can see the relationships between the two. The 2, 3, 4, 6 and 12 times tables combine beautifully. Tables that are related use a similar style to cement the relationship using Gestalt principles.
It is important these charts are kept in a highly visually accessible area. As a result, much design time has been spent on the look and feel of these posters so that not only do they fulfil a clear spatial requirement to reinforce the times table, but so they are aesthetic enough to display in common areas. Many educational posters are hidden behind toilet doors or in ‘quiet corners’ as they are garish and use colour palettes that aren’t traditionally found in the home (in particular, the primary colours).
Educational materials can be visually appealing without looking like a crèche artwork. Ours come in a few styles, allowing the customer to customise to their home or child’s bedroom. There are also very block, simple posters which are more durable that can be used in the classroom.