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Primary Education News
News A mighty times table problem solved
Teachers Hannah Allum and Hannah Smart developed The Mighty Multiples Times Tables Challenge to improve maths attainment. Here they share tips on how to replicate its success
When we reviewed and analysed maths attainment in our primary school, we were faced with the reality that our areas of weaknesses across the entire school were numbers bonds, times tables and problem-solving.
This was of major concern to us considering just that week Michael Gove had stipulated that all children should know their times tables by the time they leave primary school. Further research showed that our pupils could recite times tables and remember them for weekly tests, but didn't enjoy the process and couldn't apply them to problem-solving. It was a mighty big problem: all we were doing was testing who had the ability to remember a list – a dreaded weekly task for children, parents and teachers alike, resulting in tears and tantrums and achieving very little.
We decided that there had to be a more appealing and productive approach to learning times tables. Our new approach needed to tune into our pupils' interests, be practical and – most importantly – fun. With the Olympics quickly approaching and national concerns over childhood obesity and lack of exercise, the obvious approach was to have an emphasis on sport. Then the idea behind The Mighty Multiples Times Tables Challenge was born.
We decided to consult the students about which subjects were fun, and nearly all said either sport or music and movement. So we decided to link every stage of learning to a sporting character that they could relate to. We created 100m Peter, High Dive Clive, Triathlon Saffron, and many more. These characters became almost real role models in our school community and it became cool to be as good as High Dive Clive at your times tables, and to receive an award or the gold medal for completing the challenge.
The Mighty Multiple times tables challenge starts with number stories and bonds, ensuring that these are secure before children move on to times tables. Each character makes their table visual, practical and helps children to solve everyday sporting dilemmas using their times tables. For example, you could play football with a twist. Decide on a times table, for instance the six times table, then for each goal scored you get 6 points.
Children only complete each part of the challenge once they've proved they can not only remember the table, but also use it to divide and solve mathematical word problems. For example, ask them: "If there were seven athletes in a team and there were two teams, how many athletes are there altogether?"
Songs were integrated and learned in both assemblies and classrooms. 400m Sinitta's song proved a massive hit, helping children to learn their two times table. With lyrics such as: "400m Sinitta, she ran round the track, the ref shouted to her, for each lap you score you get 2 points……….400m Sinitta she ran round the track, she ran 1 lap and almost collapsed, the ref shouted to her 'what did you get?' She said two, so 1x2 must be two.'"
The scheme included cross-curricular learning, with endless ideas and activities – lasting five, 10 or 30 minutes – to slot into even the busiest of timetables. For example, one idea was to get every child to write a word problem involving a given times table. Pupils then swap it with a partner and answer each others question. Another more active idea was to do the action of a character while quickly reciting their table. For example, students would cycle on the spot while reciting the seven times table like Cycling Susie.
Teachers even integrated The Mighty Multiples into a variety of subjects from art to science. Who would think to multiply all the parts of your body by five? If there are 12 bones in 1 person how many bones are there in five people? In the whole class? The questioning possibilities are endless.
Mighty Multiples is a whole school scheme that starts in reception and stretches to year six. What appealed to staff in our school was the fact that whether you had children on the special educational needs register or the gifted and talented register, they were included, challenged and incredibly successful.
It also motivated parents to become active in their child's learning as children were now taking home active challenges or songs to show their parents. Homework transformed from something that was squirreled at the bottom of school bags to something that was thrust in parents faces as soon as the children burst out of the school gates, motivated and excited to learn.
We also involved parents by inviting them into school to show them the amount of learning you could get out of throwing kitchen roll javelins down your garden. Even parents who took a traditional approach to learning and were initially dubious, soon started taking part and were as competitive as their children by the end of the session. We had to remind two fathers, scrambling in a paddling pool in search of the duck with the correct multiple on, that this was a scheme for their children, not them.
One year on, we find ourselves surrounded by active, self-motivated, independent learners. It has been very rewarding to hear from other schools across the country how successful our scheme has been and we certainly look forward to hearing many more positive stories about it.
Hannah Allum and Hannah Smart are primary school teachers, co-authors and illustrators of The Mighty Multiples Times Tables Challenge.