segunda-feira, 15 de março de 2010

A Tabuada / Times Tables

Click to compute ;)

Why do times tables matter - and how should they be taught?

The question above is half asked by me, and half by my 8-year-old daughter. She is currently learning her tables, and wondering why they are important. I've told her they're vital, but she remains unconvinced (er, the cheery phrase, "times tables suck" was written on a piece of paper left on the breakfast table one morning last week.)

I, on the other hand, remain convinced that tables really do matter, both for extending maths ability and for life outside the classroom. They can help, as I've tried to explain to her, from working out how much money you need to buy something, to measuring a room for a carpet (not that appealing to a child, I do realise). They're also important for recipes - what if you need to double or triple the quantities? - and for saving time. If you know your tables, then you're ahead of the game.

Clive Portman teaches Year 5 at primary school (that's 9 and 10 year olds). He says that tables are vital, because if you don't know them, you can't do the maths that follows. It sounds obvious, but it's so important. If you don't know your tables, you risk being lost when maths gets a bit more difficult. Clearly, you need to know what these tables mean, and how to apply them, but I don't think that's really so hard (groups of numbers, anyone? Or why not use the plastic cups method shown on Monday night's Dispatches programme?)
"Learning their tables is also good for a child's self-esteem," adds Mr Portman. "We find that parents often see them as an indicator of how good their child's maths is."

Adam Creen, head of maths at a secondary school, Salesian School, in Surrey, agrees that tables are crucially important. "They're used all the time," he says. "Half of the GCSE still needs to be done without a calculator, and knowing your tables speeds everything up. It's important for squares, square roots and powers. And, of course, you use them out of school, in all sorts of jobs too."

Peter Watt, a fellow secondary school maths teacher backs this up. "Remember that numbers and algebra are connected, so from a secondary teacher's viewpoint, this basic understanding of numeracy allows the pupils to engage in much deeper, more abstract maths beyond just counting," he says. "So, if you are confident with your numbers, then the fun stuff like algebra becomes instantly more accessible. Take for example the simple problem, I buy 8 albums for £24, if they are all the same price how much is each one? Which is just a wordy way of saying 8a = 24, what is 'a' worth?

"Confidence with numbers breeds confidence in maths, if you are stressing about 6 times 3 then you will struggle to access the other topics."

So, multiplication tables are important, and not just in an abstract sense, but for educational achievement and life in general. My daughter appears to be slowly coming around to this, as we have begun pointing out when we use tables in everyday life (usually concerning money!). She has also realised that division is so much easier if you can do multiplication, something she didn't seem to have picked up before.

The Conservatives are thinking of making all children take a tables test in primary school (possibly instead of KS1 Sats), so I wonder why our children often don't seem realise how important they are. Is this partly because they're taught in so many "fun" ways these days, they don't want to buckle down and actually learn something by heart (I do realise that makes me sound very old-fashioned)?

So, how should tables be taught? There seems to be much less of an emphasis on learning by rote now, although I actually think this is a good way to learn some things. As I mentioned above, I'm unconvinced  that everything at school needs to be desperately imaginative, or fun. 

Adam Creen, however, says that he's not convinced that rote learning is best for everyone, and at a recent workshop at my daughter's school, we were told that as learning by rote only worked for around 80 percent (!) of children, it wasn't particularly encouraged. The problem, as I see it, is that you simply need to know your tables. If you are having to work them out by adding up each answer (2,4,6,8,10 etc), you will find it a very hard and slow process.

I'm joined in my views by Clive Portman, who says that he "strongly believes in the rote learning" and by Dina Strasser, an American teacher (and blogger) who tells me that the same issues are talked about in the States. "I learned mine (late 70s early 80s) by rote, with much angst,  Mom tells the story of coming upstairs to hear me reciting them worriedly in my sleep," she says. "My daughter isn't old enough to have hit them yet, but I can say from the math she's bringing home and the math my 7th graders are learning, there's a tension between rote learning and more conceptual, investigative learning that continues in the US-- and not just in math, but in all subjects."

However, Dina adds that "for all its dreadly drill-and-kill feel, I feel that some thing are just worth memorising - as well as understanding. I'd put the times tables amongst the very few pieces of knowledge that are."

So I'm all for learning tables and there are many ways to do this. Peter Watt recommends playing Brain Training to practice, and there are loads of times tables games on the internet, not to mention CDs (we liked times tables disco and also learnyourtimestables, though some of it is a bit strange...). 

But I do realise (as mentioned in that 80 percent comment above) that some children do find times tables extremely hard and need more help with them. This is what prompted Penny Topsom, who's severely dyslexic, to come up with a new way to teach them to her children (who are also dyslexic).

"I had a fear of maths, a real problem with it," says Penny. "So when I had to help my sons with their tables, and one of them pointed out that the list of tables I'd produced didn't look like a 'table.'. I decided to change the way they were written and come up with my own version."

Penny's grid produced patterns to the tables that she didn't realise existed before. Suddenly maths began to make sense.

She has now written a book about her method, called "Multiplication rules" and she adds: "whether a child should be answer them instantaneously, with a teacher and an entire class staring at them, I'm not sure. Most of us when put under pressure, panic and go completely blank  and this is where I think most peoples' dread of times tables comes from. I'm sure it was this that made me few like a complete 'maths numptie' never once being able to answer these question!"

However, despite this, she agrees that kids simply need to learn to multiply. "I could never get a grip on the times tables when I was growing up," she says, "but now I realise that if you understand them, it makes fractions a lot simpler, and division. In fact, every part of maths seems to come back to them. I never understood why I needed to learn them at school, but now I do."



1 comentário:

SiouxGeonz disse...

I tutor at a college in Illinois in the U.S.
The people who decided that even though practicing them "sucked," they were goign to learn them anyway, are so far ahead of the people who are just as smart as they are... but didn't knuckle down and learn them.
The *really* smart ones also learned that the best way to do boring things that suck is to dive into them headfirst and do them as absolutely well as possible, because then it's done faster. Every thought wave wasted thinking "this sucks, I wish I didn't have to do this" is putting off the "Hey! I have mastered these things!"
That said, it can help to mix things up a little bit to make the practicing less drudgerous. (I found your blog seeing what's out there online, since I'm going to try to make some practice exercises for my folks who are embarrassed by thigns that look like grade school.)