The times table game

Every Friday afternoon, double maths with Mr Hutt: he would march up and down the classroom, barking: "Number seven: six times eight. Six times eight. Number eight: ..." Twenty times tables questions, rapid-fire, scores kept. (One week, I fumbled $7\times 8$, blemishing my perfect score; Paul Edwards, on the other hand, maintained 100%. Never forgiven him.)

Given that I already knew my times tables and had a strong competitive spirit, this was a perfectly fine way to spend a Friday afternoon. For my classmates who weren't quite so hot on them, I can imagine it was the sort of ordeal that would make them hate maths even more.

My thinking on times tables goes back and forth: I'm not sure that the dozen or so teaching hours Mr Hutt put into times tables drills couldn't have been better spent elsewhere, but at the same time, having instant recall of your tables makes everything so much easier.

It's not just knowing what $7 \times 4$ is without counting that's a useful skill, though; it's also important to be able to see that $72 = 8 \times 9$ -- for example, when trying to cancel down fractions.

There's a great game for that, though: the BBC Times Tables game. It works backwards from the usual way: it gives you a number and asks you to put it in the grid. If it gave you 36, you could place it either at $6\times6,~4\times9\text{ or }9\times4$.

If you're starting out, turn the clock off and try to get through without making any errors; if you're short of time, just focus on the ones you know you struggle with (reducing it to just the 6, 7 and 8 times tables halves the amount of work you need to do -- and you don't waste time on the ones you already know.)

The main reason I like it is, towards the end of the game, you can start using the numbers you've already worked out to narrow down the answers you don't know. (But but but - I can hear the splutters: they should just KNOW them! Well yes, ideally. But if they did, they wouldn't be playing the game to learn them, now, would they? Have a bit of compassion.) By constructing the answers yourself, you cement the knowledge in your mind - I think they call it discovery-based learning1 .

Colin

Colin is a Weymouth maths tutor, author of several Maths For Dummies books and A-level maths guides. He started Flying Colours Maths in 2008. He lives with an espresso pot and nothing to prove.

  1. It was all the rage recently. Probably out of fashion by now. []

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I teach in my home in Abbotsbury Road, Weymouth.

It's a 15-minute walk from Weymouth station, and it's on bus routes 3, 8 and X53. On-road parking is available nearby.

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