Term 3 Panic Attack
So it’s now mid-April and 3/4 of my Grade 4 students still do not know their times tables. Sure there has been some improvement since the start of the year. All of our math lessons took place in small group rotations and scaffolded ability-based instruction. Throughout the year we’ve inquired into multiplication and division a variety of ways: through conceptual investigations, xtramath.org, context-based problem solving, manipulatives and arrays, introducing various algorithms…and still somehow many are still stumped by simple questions like “what is 9 x 7?”. It terrifies me to think that they will soon enter grade 5 with huge insecurities about multiplication and division facts.
…I decided to turn memorizing their basic multiplication facts into a six-week long Cooperative Class Game.
* We have a vast range of mathematical abilities: From ‘math whiz’ students who have weekly private math lessons (and thus, quick recall) to several students who are still counting on their fingers.
* This group of students have little support at home to practice their times table facts (therefor need intrinsic & extrinsic motivation to do so)
* It’s nearing the end of the year and we need something fun to keep us going through the last 8 weeks
* Teamwork and collaborating towards a common goal are invaluable skills
* Cooperative games are more fun than worksheet/online practice!
How I introduced the Challenge:
This past Friday I waited until the end of the day to introduce our Multiplication Madness Challenge. I displayed a Golden Trophy (made of paper) on the wall which piqued the students’ interest. I then sat them around me and announced that for the next 6 weeks we would host a fun challenge to help everyone in 4J learn their times tables. I told them they would be working in teams to win the ‘Multiplication Trophy’. I also explained that the trophy symbolizes hard work and consistent practice of their times tables over the next 6 weeks. Therefore, the winning team would earn ONE WEEK of NO homework. Of course, at that reward the whole class cheered. I had considered not having a reward, or using other rewards (pizza party, paper certificates, candies, free time etc) but decided that learning their facts was enough of a reward and a natural consequence of consistent practice at home. Also, by the time the competition is over, we will be in the final 2 weeks of school, with very little homework anyway. Still, I had two girls approach me afterwards, very concerned about missing out on learning if they were the winners. I explained the ‘No Homework’ reward could be optional, and they were happy with that:-)
Here are the posters I created on pages:
I waited until the last minute to reveal the teams, and we talked over the rules of the game first. We discussed ‘sportsmanship’ and that there would be penalty for ‘poor sportsmanship’. I expect sportsmanship which is why I don’t want to give a reward for it. They agreed that it was important and I explained that sportsmanship begins with supporting whoever is on your team (to avoid moans/groans that sometimes come with teacher-assigned groups). I purposely mixed strong and weak students together to create a balance of abilities and ensure that team-mates could support each other. When I finally revealed the teams, they cheered and excitedly set off to choose team names and make signs for the Challenge Wall:
Each student made their own ‘training pack’ which they will keep in their bag for home and school use. It includes a set of Triangle Practice cards (fact families) and basic times tables fill in the blank cards that go up to x12. I explained that our first game would be Monday (focusing on 1x table and 12x table) and ALL of them practiced this weekend! Surprisingly, the ones who haven’t done much practicing at all this year, studied the most and were the most confident with their 12x table for today’s game.
Before today’s game I allowed 15 minutes ‘Times Table Training’, where they could practice independently or in groups. Two members of one group chose to work with another group member and the 3 of them quizzed each other using hand-made 12x Triangle Cards. They were more than ready for the competition.
1pt, 2pt or 3pt GOALS
To differentiate this challenge for the diverse abilities in my classroom, each team had 2 minutes to answer as many questions as possible. We started with the 12x table and they were to pick from the GREEN pile (1pt), PINK pile (2pts) or BLUE pile (3pts). Cards were flipped face-down in a pile, but I made them in advance so that I was prepped for the ‘blue card’ answers. I also introduced the point system on Friday so students were aware they could push themselves to answer more challenging questions. Green cards = 4 seconds, Pink card = 5 seconds, and Blue card = 12 second response time.
As I mentioned I have several students with high learning needs, including one student who has a language delay due to a hearing impairment. While she is a very active member of our class, due to her needs, she spends a lot of time on her own program. This cooperative game has already empowered her to test her teammates during ‘Times Table Training’ and, like all her classmates, she was highly motivated by the timed challenge. She was one of the most confident students during the 12x table game. This was one of the first times I saw my weakest (and strongest) math students thrive in front of the rest of the class, and it made me wonder if I should have been doing more cooperative team-based games like this since the start of the year.
How did it work?
I set the timer for 2:00 mins and asked a team to volunteer to go first. Only one person volunteered. I immediately rewarded that person’s team with 0.5 point for being a risk taker and going first in the very first game. They then lined up behind a table and we practiced how they would circulated through, each person having 4 seconds to answer a question of their choice. I also went over the rules that if one teammate couldn’t answer in 4 seconds, another could answer an unanswered/incorrect question. If 2 people on the team couldn’t answer it, then that team would get a ‘RED CARD’ (see rules above). At the end of the game, only one team received a red card, which just means they need more practice with the 12x table. Part two of Game #1 was using the same cards with the 1x tables in 2 mins. Of course everyone raced through and each team earned 73 points (hence why Game#1 scores are so high). It was a fun way to finish the challenge for today!
Friendly Competition, and great Sportsmanship!
As soon as the timer started, the students were immediately engaged and cheering each other on. It was incredible to see the students who, just on Friday, were the most insecure about this challenge absolutely shine during the competition. Pairing more challenging times tables with easier ones made it more enticing for students to practice over the weekend. Only one student chose to try a 3point question (Blue card) and although he didn’t get the right answer (off by 10), I rewarded his team for taking a risk in the first game. He was devastated but definitely motivated to gain confidence doing quick recall of double digit multiplication.
Teams add up their totals to find out their final score for Game #1…