It’s October, that time of the year when the air starts to smell crisp, the leaves change colors, and the stores fill up with every kind of candy known to man. And who doesn’t love candy (besides dentists)? While I don’t have actual candy, I do have a virtual treat for you today! In fact, it’s multiplication facts! And that’s a fact!
There are very few things I remember about elementary school, but the exciting feeling of learning multiplication facts ranked up there high. Multiplication was an art. It was the big kid’s math. Being a child, of course, I had no idea how significant learning multiplication would be. Now, as a teacher, I realize that nearly everything in math rests so heavily on learning our multiplication facts. There is very little in math we can complete without the need of our basic facts. Each year I am haunted by how many children rely so often on their fingers for computation as opposed to their memories. I even remember one student subtracting 3 each time from 42 to determine the quotient of a problem. As impressed as I was that this student understood the underlying concept, it was time consuming. Basic facts should be automatic—and fast!
So how do we take on such a daunting task with all that we have to teach in a year? I have a few tips…
1.) The Fingers. Wait… Didn’t you just say students need to stop relying so heavily on their fingers? I did… But it’s a starting place to help students have accuracy. They need to have the correct answer each time to make sure they aren’t memorizing the wrong answer. I can think of many students over the years that were insistent that the answer was a wrong one. Most teachers have seen the nines trick where you hold out your hand, count the fingers of the other factor (besides the 9) starting on the left and determining the answer by what fingers are left up. But did you know about the other finger tricks for the 6, 7, and 8’s? Check it out here.
2.) Strategies & Flashcards. At the beginning of my school year, I always introduce each set by themselves. We start with the twos, create arrays out of objects (such as candy corn), discuss any strategies to remember them (such as doubling the products of the twos for the fours), and create flashcards. We learn each set of multiplication facts by themselves at first, then integrate them all together.
3.) Games. Every student loves games, and that’s one of the best ways to learn without knowing you are learning! There are many games on the internet, including my own Teachers Pay Teachers store (such as my Tic-Tac-Toe task cards), but you could easily create games without a lot of cost. Provide dice for pairs of students, and multiply the roll of the two dice. Students record the product and play a set number of rounds. The students then add the products and the one with the most wins! Face cards work the same, having students flip two cards, multiply them and the student with the higher product collects the set (like war!). The student with the most cards at the end wins.
I have provided you with this Multiplication Tic-Tac-Toe Freebie! Download it here (or click on the picture below), print it, and laminate it for reuse year after year. Students can write on it using Vis-à-Vis markers or dry erase markers, and it easily wipes off at the end for reuse. Just like playing Tic-Tac-Toe, students must first find the product of problem to place an X or O in the box. Instead of laminating it, you can simply print it off and have students take it home to play with a family member. Multiplication facts are that important!
4.) Practice, Practice, Practice. Students need lots of practicing opportunities. There are many apps and websites that offer opportunities for practice and are free. One of my favorites is the IXL site. While it is a paid site, it does allow the first 20 problems free. I always dedicate 10 minutes a day to multiplication facts fluency in my classroom.
5.) Weekly Goal Setting and Quizzes. In my classroom, I utilize the differentiated Monster Math Program. Students first set goals on what multiplication facts they want to master by when. Then the students all start together on their multiplication of the ones. They are given two minutes to complete all the problems related to zeroes and ones. The students continue working their way up each set; when they master (all correct in two minutes) the twos, they move on to the threes, so on. Each set reviews all the previous multiplication facts and focuses on the new set of numbers. Each set gains a few more problems, so it becomes a bit more challenging. However, the time limit does not change. Students are always given two minutes regardless of which set they are working on. My students love this program because each week they are challenging themselves and working toward a big prize for mastering all the facts! (I provide a mini-stuffed plush monster for my monster math prize.)