Posted on November 19, 2017
Do you remember how old you were when you learned your multiplication tables? Perhaps you were in 3rd or 4th grade? If your experience was similar to mine, you were given the multiplication table and asked to "memorize" the table and that'd you'd be tested over a period of weeks. If you were lucky enough to possess superior memorization skills, you passed the test with flying colors. If you weren't so lucky, those tests brought on anxiety and panic, which is not what we want any child to experience when taking a test. Thank goodness for the School House Rock people who played catchy multiplication songs in between Saturday morning cartoons! Those songs helped me to learn how to count by 6's, 7's and 8's and enabled me to pass my multiplication tests, but I didn't actually understand the concept of multiplication until years later.
If your child is a 4th grader, they've been learning the concept of multiplication and have been taking timed-tests to show mastery of the facts. For my 3rd grade math students, we are just getting started. Your child brought home a letter this week explaining how we will be approaching the learning of multiplication facts this year, and how you can help and support your child at home.
Conceptually, I want the students to learn that multiplication is repeated addition. For example, let's look at a word problem states "There are 6 dogs at the park, how many legs are there?" The first step is for the students to know the variable they are solving for is legs, so they should write the equation 4 + 4 + 4 + 4 + 4 + 4. Since they learned their double-addition facts last year, they know that equation can then be rewritten at 8 + 8 + 8 and finally they can rewite one more time as 16 + 8 = 24. I do expect them to write a sentence that states, "There are 24 dog legs at the park." It's important for them to be able to identify what they are solving for and helps to develop the habit of labeling the answer, which will be required in future math classes. The majority of the 3rd graders are understanding this but sometimes do make addition errors with repeated addition.
If students write the algorithm of 6 x 4 = 24 in the above problem, I still want them to know that they are multiplying 6 sets of 4 legs. We will be doing many of these sorts of word problems in conjunction with the learning of the multiplication facts. We will also be playing card games, using various apps, along with flash cards. We are starting off with the 5's since the entire class can count by 5's. This week we had a word problem -- "I drew 7 stars that each had 5 points. How many points did I draw?" Some students drew the stars and counted the points, and they all wrote the correct algorithm of 5 + 5 + 5 + 5 + 5 + 5 + 5, but just a few knew that 7 x 5 = 35. The majority of the class was counting by 5's to arrive at 35. Many of your children came home with the flash cards for the 5's and should be practicing at home.
The letter that went home stated that students can use clues or shortcuts for arriving at the answer. For example, if a child doesn't know 7 X 5, but does know that 5 x 5 = 25, if they understand that 7 x 5 is two additional fives added to 25, then they can arrive at the answer of 35. So here is how you can help.
First, give them simple repeated addition problems to solve. May I suggest during daily commutes when you are stuck in traffic so they are building their math muscle when sitting in the car. At home, have your child give you the flash cards and flip them over for them, putting them in piles of the facts they know and those they don't know. Then, take a look at the facts that are challenging and see if you can come up with clues or tricks together to learn them. When the child feels they know their 5's, they bring them to school to test out with me. Once they master a set, I will send home a new set to learn. The goal is for us to get through all the sets up to 10 x 10 by the end of 3rd grade so we will be ready for the timed-tests in 4th grade. And of course, good old Youtube has all the School House Rock videos from the 1970's if you want to watch them with your child.