Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things

Do you know your tables?

on August 19, 2013

A long time ago, before the concern over the appearance of our resting face, the fascination with how to treat introverts and even the quizzes revealing which Disney princess/Jane Austen heroine/Hogwarts house we were, the trend du jour was to ascertain our learning style.  There are three main categories that people fall into: visual learners, who are most receptive to information when it is presented in written or pictorial form; auditory learners, who best remember what they’ve heard; and kinaesthetic learners, who benefit from using movement, touch and texture when studying.  Most of us use a bit of everything, but there’s probably one you can identify as your main strength.

I’m most definitely an auditory learner.  I remember things much better if I hear them spoken or say them out loud to myself – especially with numbers, which I often confuse when I see them written down (bizarrely I always confuse the same pairs, because to me, certain numbers look like one another).  At university I once gave a friend the wrong date for a ball we were planning to attend together, because I’d only seen it written on a poster.  Thankfully, I realised my mistake in time to pass on the correct information, which was pretty lucky for me, as the friend in question was Southern Daddy and the occasion was the evening on which we decided we were actually more than just friends!

It’s useful to be aware of your own learning style, but all the more important to be aware that others may not share it, especially if you are involved in any form of teaching!  When I’m leading Bible studies (both for adults and children, at different times), I have to remember the importance of using visual information and interactive methods as well as just speaking.  We have a small whiteboard which we use at our ladies’ Bible study group – the hardest part for me is deciding what I should write on it that might be helpful to others!

I’ve been reminded of learning styles on a couple of occasions recently because of the issue of Times Tables.  I’m not an especially political person and, I’m afraid, pay less attention than I probably should to the news, but I read a few weeks ago on a blog that one of the planned changes to the school curriculum (which are pretty much a constant thing just at the moment) is to encourage children to return to chanting tables.  This has caused something of an outcry amongst teachers, along with maths experts such as Carol Vorderman, who don’t believe this is a helpful or effective way to learn them.  My first response was to wonder why they are all so against the method, since to my mind constant repetition is the best way to learn anything.

Then I realised I’d answered my own question: to my mind.  My auditorily-focused mind, which relishes hearing the spoken word, takes in sounds other people don’t notice, learns all the lyrics to a song by the third time through.  I learned my tables by reciting them, out loud, repeatedly, until they were stuck in my head.  (The last one to stick was 8×7=56 which I recently found out is recognised as the most difficult one).  But I’m told that auditory learners are in the minority, so it’s not surprising that teachers are concerned that this method won’t benefit their students.  Clearly what’s required is a bit of everything, so that each learning style is accommodated and all the children find something helpful to them (and, by the way, I don’t think I’ve just revealed anything especially groundbreaking there, if they trusted consulted teachers more they’d discover loads of little gems like that one).

All this has coincided with the Butterfly’s transition from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 2 this coming September (for those of you unfamiliar with the terminology, it’s what used to be called “going into the Juniors” – her year group will be turning 8 during the school year and work has a tendency to become noticeably more difficult) and the expectation that she will learn most, if not all, her tables over the coming months.  This proved more than a little difficult with her sister, who preferred to perform the calculations in her head rather than learn the answers.  Whilst mental arithmetic is a useful skill and one in which the Bookworm is very proficient, what’s required in tables-learning – whether you like it or not – is an instant recall of the answer.

So, in an effort to avoid the stress and misery which came with our last journey through Year 3 Tables Homework, I’ve been researching a variety of fun and interesting ways to learn them.  I started with a bit of googling, which threw up some ideas of games and websites.  Carol Vorderman’s site, The Maths Factor, offers a variety of courses aimed at children of different ages (primary school level).  It covers all kinds of numeracy work, including tables, but although I agreed with Vorderman’s overall approach (understanding patterns, working through tables spoken and written, aiming towards an instant recall of the individual responses and not just an ability to recite the table as a whole) when I read about it, the courses on the site are expensive and a big investment if you’re not sure your child will take to it.

I canvassed opinion via Facebook and discovered some other, much cheaper, resources from friends who are teachers or parents (or both!), including Teaching Tables which has various different free games, some of which work on learning and performing the calculations, including looking at the patterns, whilst others focus on the speed element.  Both the girls love Table Mountain, in which you have to answer a series of questions correctly in order to propel a climber to the top of the mountain (and successful participants get the fun of watching him slide down the other side!). Another teacher-recommended site is Education City, which caters for both schools and families.  However, membership is payable, and although a free 10-day trial is available we decided not to register as we were about to go on holiday and wouldn’t be able to use it (we may still try it!)

With the holiday in mind I wanted something portable to keep things ticking over (we didn’t do much but I feel it was better than nothing!), and took up another parent’s recommendation in the form of the Squeebles Times Tables 2 app from Key Stage Fun.  It’s available for iPhone, iPad and Android and cost me £1.49, but I think it will be well worth it.  As with Teaching Tables there are various tables-related activities and participation earns equipment for a just-for-fun game called Bubbleball.  When a stage or level of the tables activities has been completed, a Squeeble is rescued from imprisonment at the hands of the Maths Monster!  The games are customisable in the PIN-protected parents’ zone, e.g. at the moment I have removed the harder tables that we’re not working on and it’s easy to switch these back on again once we’re up to that.

I’m fairly sure that both my daughters are auditory learners like myself, so I wanted to find something we could listen to – particularly in the car – which might reinforce the learning almost subliminally.  To achieve this, the songs would have to be a) clear, b) fun and c) acceptable for parents to listen to several times over.  There are dozens of CDs and downloads of tables songs, and many of the samples I listened to were performed in unusual voices (singing cats, etc) which made the content unclear.  In the end, after a lot of review-reading, I plumped for what has possibly been my best decision in years: Professor Mathmo and the Voyage to the Times Tables.  This is written and performed by Giles Hayter, who conveniently happens to be a musician, artist, composer… and maths teacher.  On listening to this CD, my children have proclaimed him “The Colin of Maths” which, as you’ll agree if you’re a Colin fan, is no half-hearted accolade!  I have to agree that his approach is appealing, catchy and parent-friendly (no irritating squeaky voices… oh, OK, one irritating squeaky voice – but it’s for one line only and it’s actually very funny!).  The CD was £7.99 and over our two-week holiday we’ve probably listened to it over twenty times.  The songs are cheerful and clear – easier tables such as 2s, 5s, 10s, are sung as they stand, whilst the more difficult ones have rhyming lines as an aide-memoire – sometimes a whole line in between, sometimes just a little comment to tie together a section, such as:

One eleven is eleven

Two elevens is* twenty-two

Three elevens is thirty-three

And four is forty-four – who knew?

*Yes, it should be “are”, but as Southern Daddy pointed out, he’s a maths teacher, not an English teacher…

The girls have picked these songs up quickly and sing along to them whenever the CD is playing, as well as sometimes when it’s not.  I think this will be a winning move in the war on Tables Homework!  My only criticism would be that more could have been made of the “voyage to the times tables” concept.  There’s a booklet included which shows the answers in each table on a different page (in a random order), and the listener is encouraged to point to the numbers as the song plays (the idea obviously being to get quick enough at remembering the answers to be able to do this in time).  The numbers are represented by alien characters that Mathmo and his sidekick Walter meet, and I thought that there might be more of a story on the CD about the intergalactic voyage and goings-on on each planet.  A missed opportunity?  Perhaps, but at least there’s nothing to detract from the task in hand.

Still keen to use a more structured approach as well, I bought Carol Vorderman’s Times Tables Book, published by Dorling Kindersley.  As someone who’s worked with educational literature and seen a lot of it – good and bad – I’m a long-standing fan of Dorling Kindersley’s contributions, and was further reassured by the fact that this book uses Vorderman’s approach (detailed above) and that it has only good reviews on Amazon.  We’ve not gone far into it yet as we chose not to take that on holiday, but it seems helpful and informative, whilst colourful and imaginative enough not to come across as boring to children.

Altogether, my approach to the whole Tables journey is now a lot more positive, which can only be helpful to the process!

So, what about you?  What’s your learning style? What helps you take things in? Do you have any resources to add to my list of recommendations?

And do you know your tables?

Thankful for…

A really refreshing holiday with beautiful weather and many good memories

Some great times with extended family

A tidy, peaceful house to come home to (still reaping the benefits from Susan‘s planner!)

A couple of weeks to get ready for back-to-school

The prospect of a long anniversary weekend approaching

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2 responses to “Do you know your tables?

  1. janereads says:

    What an interesting post. I’m a visual learner. I can read something and remember it so much better than if someone tells me something. When I was studying for exams in my final years of high school I wrote pages and pages of study notes and highlighted them with different colours. Once in my exams, I could remember much of what I had written down by visualising the colours.

    Later in life as a teacher of english as a second language I finally found out about the different learning styles. I am not sure if teachers used these techniques when I was at school, but I am glad that teachers now recognise that not everyone learns the same. Good on you for helping your kids learn in a fun way.

    • northmum says:

      Isn’t it interesting how we instinctively adapt to suit our strengths? – I realised at school that reading any of my literature texts out loud would help me take in far more, and also that my recall in exams was better if I thought of the music I’d been listening to while I was revising! As with you that was years before I knew anything about learning styles. I’ll remember your tip about different colours next time I’m using the whiteboard for something!!

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