Sunday, 15 June 2014

Multiplication Ice-Cream Challenge

Continuing our super fun theme of number fluency (no I'm not actually serious that it's super fun - well maybe kinda fun, but not in an over-enthusiastic prep teacher way), this is another system I use for the multiplication or dreaded time tables facts. I by no means came up with this - it's actually something I saw from a colleague and completely her idea. However, I do think learning time tables is extremely important and, more than that, it is a total prerequisite for double-digit or more multiplication, division, factor work and high school algebra. Yet, if you try to teach these number facts concurrently to teaching the aforementioned concepts, you'll find yourself drowning in the same problem mentioned in the last post: students' poor mental computation blocking their acquisition of new concepts because those new concepts require their full brain concentration on just that new element of learning, as opposed to both the number facts and the new skill. Boy, that was wordy!

So, about a term prior to teaching multiplication, comes the multiplication ice-cream scoop challenge. It's pretty simple really: each student receives a yellowish piece of paper resembling an ice-cream cone. Some teachers laminate these, I go even more simple and slice 12 pages diagonally in half with a ruler. The students can decorate their cones if you wish, I generally leave room on the cone for a short activity when we start our unit for brainstorming the different words for multiplication: array, groups of, rows, boxes with ... each in them, product of, etc.

Then, students are challenged to learn their multiplication tables. As you can see from the picture, I suggest certain ones first and, naturally, these are not suggested in numerical order but rather a more logical sequence of learning, starting with 2s, 10s, 5s (half of tens and I link this with analogue clock units as well), 11s, 3s, 4s, 6s, 9s,  8s, 7s, 12s.

To earn a scoop, a student has to answer random-fire questions on that multiplication table that are out of order. I make sure to mix up the wording of the questions too, for example for the 5s: two times five, five times nine, seven multiplied by five, twelve groups of five, five rows of three, etc. If the student answers each within roughly three to four seconds (and isn't using skip-counting), they get their scoop.

No paper allowed, students invariably request to do them on paper but one in, all in and you lose some of the value of it, as well as the ease of admin. I let them do these tests during eating time so they don't become an interruption, many request to be tested on yard duty too.

Many teachers do this in some form, I used to do it with a simple table and stickers and others use a chart in their assessment book, but this is the easiest method for recording I've come across because students simply grab their large, colourful, circular scoop as they earn it, from a plastic pocket at the front of the room, and put it up themselves, which is probably more motivating than a simple tick or smaller sticker. Plus it's also, visually, the quickest way to look across the board at your students and gain immediate feedback on their timestables knowledge, and the most attractive method of display I've seen for this purpose too.

To encourage students to practice, a few weeks into the challenge (when most kids have tested on those timetables that they already knew or could learn pretty quickly), we make flip cards as a mini-activity on each of their next times table. Pics of these flash cards to come soon; some teachers would buy these and cut them up, but why take the learning opportunity away from the kids and they're more likely to remember what they create and wrote down themselves on their own choice of colour flash cards.

Oh, plus I offer the prize of an ice-cream at school for students who complete the challenge - pretty small price to pay for a student learning all their times tables in grade three! There's a recent post about this on our grade three blog with student comments from just last week, check it out on the link on the sidebar to our GKPS Grade Three Blog.

Thanks for visiting and no apologies if this post made you feel like eating ice-cream (it's sponsored by your favourite brand)!

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