On the 16 August this year, I had the pleasure of attending the ‘Mastering Maths Facts Webinar’ run by Teach Well for their alumni.
As a secondary teacher, I’m sure I’m not alone in the observation that it is a rare student entering high school that has instant recall of their basic multiplication facts.
I’ve always been of the mind that instant recall of those basic facts is vitally important for advancement and actual enjoyment of Maths but have been guilty of the “there’s too much in the curriculum, I don’t have time to teach these in high school” mindset of a secondary teacher. I have tried in the past to get them to make flashcards and practise at home but have never had any success with this working.
That all changed the day after the webinar – as when I was introduced to the full participation techniques and how to use them effectively – I was motivated to immediately have a go.
I was excited to implement a Peer Assisted Learning Strategy (PALS) the next day. The strategy I used was heavily based on one provided as part of the webinar.
I decided to use flashcards, with the times-tables 2×2 to 9×9 on them, 36 in total. I just do these ones as then they can use the distributive law to work out the bigger ones – these are just the ones I want instant recall of. After explaining the new focus to the students and explaining the reasons for it, we took that lesson for them to make flashcards, ensuring they were all correct!
The next day, we began. I started by creating a worksheet with 40 questions (2×2 to 9×9) on it with the intention of giving them 60 seconds to complete it all. When I tried it though, it took me 68 seconds to physically write all the answers on it, so I decided to give them 90 seconds to do it. Every student did the quiz, self-marked (with me reading out the answers) and handed the sheet back to me. Later, I recorded the results in a simple spreadsheet to give me the baseline.
Students then carried out the PALS which involved the students working in pairs (I don’t do the ‘stronger with weaker student’ part of the strategy, I find this isn’t necessary in my small class context). For 3 minutes, one student shows the other a card, if the receiver gets it right, the card goes to the back of the pack, if they get it wrong, they get told the correct answer and the card goes 3-4 spaces back from the front, so they get it again soon. At the end of 3 minutes, the students swap roles. We then do the 90 second quiz only once a week, on a Friday generally, after doing their PALS that day. We do our PALS at the start of every Maths lesson and/or it is part of the Daily Review on the days we do those.
I’m actually surprised, the students are really enjoying it and they will remind me if it seems like I’ve forgotten! Tracking their scores is showing that they are markedly improving with each class having an at-least 10-mark improvement over 4 weeks and individual students going from well under 20 correct to the high 30s. I even had one girl remark after the last 90 second quiz, “Oh, there were lots of the easy ones in this set this time.” What a pleasure it was to explain to her that the questions weren’t getting easier, it was that she just knew more of them. It takes 7 minutes at the start of each Maths lesson, and wow, is it time well spent!
Challenges? In all honesty, nothing really. Creating the quizzes could be an issue, but I would absolutely recommend the website: https://www.math-aids.com/ as it allows you to create almost any worksheet you could want. It has made it so easy to create the quizzes.
So, to finish up, I’d absolutely recommend secondary teachers take the time to get more of their students instantly recalling their basic multiplication facts, it is time well spent in my classes. Thanks to the Teach Well team for again changing my teaching and therefore my students’ learning for the better.
– Chris Buckland, Secondary Maths Teacher