When I first started teaching maths in junior schools times tables were taught in a fairly standard way. They were introduced through a block of lessons via the maths scheme and each teacher then gave their class weekly tables test having asked each child to practice at home.
Weekly Tests and Practice at Home
Even as a fairly new teacher I could see this didn’t work too well; some children got full marks in each weekly test, another group of children always seem to get several wrong and another smaller group of children got really stressed by the test even though I knew they knew the facts. When I talked to the children about how they practised at home it became clear that this was part of the problem. The amount of support children got at home varied widely with some given no help at all. Other children were encouraged to recite tables in order and some were asked questions out of order. Almost none were shown any strategies for working out difficult facts. I realised I needed to help them practice at school.
A cheap, simple, quick solution for school
How could I shoehorn another activity into my already busy and full teaching day? I searched around on the Internet for something that would be quick and easy to administer that would meet the needs of every child in my large class that would be cheap as I didn’t have a budget and that would not give me heaps of additional marking . At that time there wasn’t much on offer so I consulted colleagues who recommended a sheet of 100 questions to be completed inside a minute. I was frustrated! This wasn’t what I wanted and I couldn’t see how a bigger test was actually going to teach the children anything. So I made something. Have a look at the video below to see what I made and how it works. I called my little booklet a Flipp-Flopps partly because of the way it was constructed and partly because the children flip over to find the answers.
Ten minute tables sessions
As I introduced Flipp Flopps to my class I began to realise it was far more flexible than I had imagined and it was solving many of the the time related issues I had faced. I decided to allocate 10 minutes each day to this new project. It was really quick to explain and the kids understood how to use it within minutes. I gave every child a booklet and asked them to try it out and that they didn’t have to tell me how many they got right.
Stress free times tables
Immediately I saw several less confident mathematicians relax! With only 14 questions and permission to keep their score private they were happy to have a go. I found I could run a session where every child was working on the same set of questions. I asked them which questions they found hardest and then invited them to share strategies for remembering them. This gave me the opportunity to check on their understanding and clarify areas of misunderstanding or confusion. I used visual representations, especially arrays to demonstrate how to use known facts to calculate harder facts. We looked at the patterns created by and contained within each set of multiples.
No marking! Just teaching!
I had no marking to do! My time was spent teaching! Sometimes I allowed the children to choose which set of multiples they wished to work on and sometimes I gave the children the option of timing themselves by using the whiteboard stopwatch. The quick thinkers loved this challenge but children who were slower to process information were more wary.
It was at this point that I began to read about maths anxiety and to realise that for some children timed maths tests caused a level of stress that was likely to put them off maths for life. Read more about Maths Anxiety here in Jo Boaler’s excellent article.
I have continued to use Flipp Flopps in a variety of contexts always with the aim of building understanding and reducing anxiety in the children I teach.
If you are looking for a resource that enables you to teach rather than test times tables take a look at our website where you can read more about our story and visit our shop.