Megamaths, a new BBC series which deals with nothing but multiplication tables, bravely attempts to make this dreary but essential aspect of mathematics fun-filled and meaningful. Its aims are mostly fulfilled; the series could lend some much needed help and inspiration to tired teachers.
The setting is the world of a playing card pack, giving the series a distinct Alice-in-Wonderland atmosphere. Each 20-minute episode deals with one multiplication table, starting with 2, 5 and 10, then tackling the rest in order of difficulty, ending with 7. The corresponding scripts get progressively more "cool" as they try to span the suggested 7 to 10 age range, introducing wittier remarks and different styles of music.
There is a basic format of chants, songs, "real life" multiplication discussions set in madcap sketches, a cartoon dragon and a rather nice Crystal Maze-style spot where two schoolchildren play a multiplication game. The games are giant scale, but are easily replicated as table-top games, using readily available resources such as playing cards, a snakes and ladders board and dice.
The "times 2" episode was my least favourite of the three I watched. It chanted 2, 4, 6, 8 and so on at breakneck speed in a variety of zany contexts, including a dotty discussion about the need for a symbol to represent "lots of" - a rather abstract concept for 7-year-olds. I believe, in fact, that this episode would probably only make sense to children who already know their two-times-table.
The "times 5" and "times 10" episodes are taken at a saner pace, and have some good visual representations of multiplication as repeated addition.
I particularly liked the silver buttons sketch, in which the four kings order the same waistcoat. The first king orders 10 buttons, the second king, not to be outdone, orders 20 and so on. The harassed tailor sets out the buttons in rows of 10, making the concept extremely clear.
Each episode deals also with the pattern aspect of the tables, identifying, for instance, that even numbers multiplied by 5 always end in 0, whereas odd numbers multiplied by 10 always end in 5. These ideas could form the basis for some useful investigations as follow up, which are hopefully included in the teacher's notes.
Overall, I would say the series would be best used for Years 3 and 4. It will not, on its own, get children correctly chanting their tables at the end of each episode, but it will help them grasp the concept of multiplication and provide teachers with a variety of adaptable strategies and activities.