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Multiplication Rocks October 12, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the dreaded words. Drill and kill. Yes, you heard me right. Drill and kill. Unlike a certain vice-presidential candidate, I’m not talking about the solution to end our dependence on foreign oil, or my weekend plans to pick off wildlife with a high-powered rifle from low-flying aircraft. No, what I have in the cross hairs of my scope is a more elusive target – multiplication.

Third grade is the beachhead for mastering multiplication. Students who are promoted to fourth grade and haven’t memorized their times tables should prepare to hunker down in the trenches of “And would you like fries with that?” Study after study has shown that the majority of students who struggle with math in middle and high school never learned their multiplication facts.

I attended a week-long math training last summer and the trainer taught all sorts of alternatives to the dreaded drill and kill technique. She demonstrated ways to calculate facts by contorting your hands and fingers so that you ultimately came up with the answer, while also getting a vigorous physical workout. These alternatives fell somewhere between throwing up gang signs and cheerleading. Hello? 3×7 is 21!  I knew that, and I didn’t even have to slap my thighs and yodel the answer!

By the end of third grade, students should be able to complete 100 multiplication facts in five minutes. One fact I know is that they haven’t really memorized the facts unless they can do them in three minutes. That’s why I have “The 3-Minute Club.”  Last year, 18 out of my 20 students were proud members. The remaining two could do their facts in five minutes, but I saw some secretive finger counting under the table. (I’ve been known to make them sit on one hand when they do fact practice, math meanie that I am!)

Some people call it drill and kill, but my students call it FUN!  They literally salivate at the chance to practice math facts. It wasn’t always like that. Five years ago I attended a New Management Seminar given by Rick Morris, who has lots of creative ideas on classroom management. That’s where I learned about the TeachTimer, which can be used on any standard overhead projector. It functions as a clock and a timer, and can count up or down. It costs around $40 (divide by $3.75 to calculate the number of lattes this equals). I’ve only had to replace the battery once, which makes it one of the best investments I’ve made.

Here’s how I do it.  My friend, Jen, gave me sheets of 100 math facts – various levels of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. My students drill daily and by introducing the timer on Day 1, they get over their fear of being timed.

The rules are simple. No one gets to shout, “Yes!” or dramatically flip their paper over to let the entire class know they’ve already finished. The great thing about the TeachTimer is I can set it to count down, so those students who finish early can write the time remaining. Once they’ve written 2:00, they know they’re “in the club.”

I give students the same facts every day for a week. On Monday they write M-5, as they have five minutes. Tuesday is also T-5.  But then we speed things up, so Wednesday is W-4, and Thursday is R-3 (yes, I have to explain why I use R instead of Th, but they quickly catch on). On Friday, they once again take the same test in five minutes (F-5). That’s the one I grade. When the timer beeps, I say, “Pencils down, correcting crayons out.”

And here’s the best part. The students correct it them themselves!  Those who’ve finished the row raise their hands and I call on one.  “Einstein, Row A,” and Einstein ticks off the answers. Row B!  Row C! Most of my students are ELLs (English Language Learners), so this also gives them the opportunity to speak.  Most ELLs are more comfortable with math and saying numbers aloud.

At the beginning of the year, I have students practice reading the answers at just the right pace, and how to project their voice. If someone gives a wrong answer, there’s an incredulous chorus of “Huhs?” and the mistake is rectified. Students put a tick mark next to each correct answer (no stars!) as they correct. If they get an answer wrong, they just circle it, as there’s no time to write the correct answer. After practicing last year, we timed ourselves. It took SEVEN MINUTES to do a five-minute drill AND correct it!

Last Friday I put one of my students in charge of correcting. He called on students and they rattled off the answers. This gave me TWO WHOLE MINUTES to do something productive like figure out where I’d put my brain. Do you know how many teachers would kill for just two extra minutes?  It was bliss, and the kids were totally running the show.

The drawing above was done by one of my students who was a crackerjack reader, but was flirting with early arthritis from chronic finger counting. He drew the picture at the end of the year after his confidence had soared 100 times (and yes, he could calculate x 100 using that neato zero trick). Drill and kill?  Just ask my students. They’ll tell you multiplication rocks!

For free math fact practice sheets, you can go to mathfactcafe.com


1. institutrice - October 13, 2008

I love it! I teach 5th grade and we still have to practice times tables. We do Mad Minute every day, and they got nuts – they love it. (Parents are the ones who freak out because they think it’s too much pressure.) Unfortunately it doesn’t help/make them learn the ones they don’t know. I tell them if they get less than 20 in a minute, they need to buy flashcards and practice every night. They just don’t believe me that almost every single thing we do in 5th grade math needs times tables!


2. Bev from england - October 13, 2008

Stuff of nightmares….Ive always hated maths. I was at school in a time where times tables werent drummed into us and I still dont know all of them. Its anoying at times. I never had a decent maths teacher either, doesnt help when the teacher is bored to tears !

Give me a book to read instead ! 😉



3. Catherine Sherman - October 14, 2008

I think this would be great for adults, too! Then we can calculate the increase in the federal deficit even faster without having to rely on a calculator, which doesn’t even go that high. We don’t even want to think about recalculating our retirement savings, which requires the trickier negative numbers.

I was thinking the other day that my drill skills had gotten rusty, because I’ve gotten lazy.Use or lose it. I used to be a killer at math. I think I’m going to practice, and be in your virtual classroom. I wish you would post some worksheets for us.

The drawing was so cute! I’m going to send this link to some teacher and former teacher friends.


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