Mathagony Aunt

17th March 2006 at 00:00
A helping hand with times tables

Q My colleagues and I were having a discussion about times tables posters in classrooms. Some said having them on the wall makes children lazy so they don't ever learn the tables. Others say children learn without meaning to, as they take away a picture and eventually this stays in their head. Then we discussed what form the poster should take. As you have researched multiplication tables and fluency, we would be interested in your thoughts on this.

When I undertook my research I was surprised by the number of classrooms that didn't have a tables poster. They can be very useful, as children do absorb some facts visually. The posters of course have to be covered during tests or exams, which involves extra work and might explain their absence in many classrooms. I think the poster should generate discussion in itself. I discovered a great one by Joe Speirer (www.xycharts.comabout.html). He calls it an XzY Chart. The poster is based on Mondrian's geometric splashes of colour and the tables are arranged on a Cartesian graph. Each number on the graph is in the form xy = n, hence XzY chart where the dot represents multiplication; learning and discussion have begun!

The concept is embedded in the graph so that, for example, 3 X 6 = 18 can be shown as an arrangement of squares. It is similar to the number square, but this arrangement lays the ground for moving on to Cartesian graphs in a really great way.

Recently I was creating material for a one-day course - Learning Multiplication Tables: the associated issues, learning without fear - when I had a "wow" moment. I was creating a crib sheet for the five-times table (the kind that would be excellent on a classroom wall), based on an image of a hand: five digits.

First, I scanned a hand into the computer; pupils could create hand prints and these could be scanned. I brought the image into PowerPoint and, using text boxes, numbered each finger in turn. I then made multiple copies of the hand down the page and numbered these in sequence, so the third hand begins with 11 and ends in 15.

My "wow" moment happened as I was numbering the fingers for the fourth hand: 16 to 20. I noticed that, having reused the third hand, all I had to do was change the units' digits except for the 20.

For the fifth hand I could use the third hand again and just change the tens' digit, carrying on like this until I had 12 hands (even though the National Curriculum and the Strategy only go up to 10).

I knew this but somehow it really brought the pattern home to me. I only really thought about it because I was working on PowerPoint and wanted to save myself some time.

Even in this creation, relationships between numbers are explored. The hands are then printed. Using the crib sheet while learning the five times table is easy. To get three fives, I swipe my hand across the first three hands, one, two three, and see that the number (answer) on the last finger is 15.

Using the crib sheet like this reinforces that multiplication is a quick way for adding.

I could do lots more with the images. For example, I could place a 5p coin on the palm of the hand to demonstrate that each hand represents 5p. Each finger therefore represents a penny. I could even have pennies on the fingertips on one hand and 5p pieces on the palm of another, but both hands are worth 5p.

Images which pupils might use for other tables include eight rowers in a rowing boat (nine if you include, and show, the coxswain), spiders, bicycles, tricycles, packets of tins from the supermarket, egg cartons. I am sure that pupils will arrive with some interesting images, but give them some examples first so they know what kinds of image will be useful for illustrating multiplication tables.

Wendy Fortescue-Hubbard is a teacher and game inventor. She has been awarded a three-year fellowship by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) to spread maths to the masses.

Email your questions to Mathagony Aunt at Or write to TES Teacher, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX

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