Should primary school children be learning times tables by heart

 Primary schools should start maths lessons with traditional times table memory sessions to ensure children master "instant recall" by the age of nine, according to the Schools Minister.

Pupils should know their tables up to 12 x 12 by heart two years before completing primary education, said Nick Gibb.

He said "early memorisation" of the multiplication tables was vital to ensure pupils developed a fluency in the maths before tackling more complex subjects at a later stage.

The minister praised schools that were seeking to ensure pupils master basic skills by introducing Chinese-style "fluency sessions and times tables tests at the start of each lesson", insisting they were a "helpful step forward".

The comments were made in a letter to 30 Shanghai teachers who have been working in English state schools over the last month to help improve standards of maths.

Posted 03rd November 2015 by Rachel Jackson, Teacher educator Subject: Mathematics Age: 4-5, 5-7, 7-11 0

The new curriculum requires children to all memorise their times tables and has caused two leading mathematics experts to speak out.

Jo Boaler, a professor of mathematics education at Stanford University has spoken of how timed multiplication tests cause anxiety for many children, blocking their working memory and preventing the recall of mathematical facts. Children may decide that they can’t do mathematics because of the stress around timed tests.

However, Charlie Stripp, director of the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM), has countered this in his article, ‘It is wrong to tell children that they do not need to memorise their times tables’. He says that knowing your times tables is important to mathematical learning and understanding, and learning tables can be fun for children. He talks of how knowing their tables help children develop learning because cognitive space is then freed up to learn new mathematical ideas and apply mathematics to solve problems.

     "It is wrong to tell children that they do not need to memorise their times tables"

So, what are teachers supposed to make of these two very different pieces of advice from two mathematics specialists?

I agree with them both in part and this perhaps highlights the day-to-day experience of many teachers. Some children thrive on learning their times tables, others become stressed and anxious when put on the spot. One thing I have noticed in class is that children are held back from learning more complex procedures when they don’t know their times tables. I have also known children who have struggled with mathematics, learn their tables and gain kudos amongst their peers. They positively glowed with pride at being quicker than those they saw as the ‘more able’ mathematicians in the class during times tables games.

Maybe it’s how we present times tables challenges. To help those that become stressed about times tables we need to teach them in a fun and engaging way, rather than giving timed tests. Teachers work extremely hard to deliver lessons to accommodate different learning styles and strive to create games and tricks to build children’s confidence in learning times tables in a way that is appropriate for the children within their classes. The ways could include:

    using counters, pictures, arrays

    playing games like Fizz Buzz, Bingo etc.

    listening and singing to times tables songs whilst children come and sit on the carpet

    using doubling 2 times table to get the 4’s and doubling the 4’s to get the 8 times table and halving the 10 times table to get the 5 times table

    applying the commutative law for working out the 7 times table

    that trick on your fingers for learning the nine times table!

Here are some great resources, including many games that help children learn their times tables in a fun way. Please share any further ideas and resources you have by uploading them in our community area.