Flipp Flopps were invented to get the nine year old children in my class practising their times tables.
As an experienced teacher, I knew how important it was for all young mathematicians to be able to recall multiplication facts swiftly and accurately. Each week I would introduce a new set of facts and discuss with the children how they could practice at home. I would give them a few helpful strategies for memorising each set of facts and set the date, one week later, when they would be tested.
For a reasonable number of the class, this routine worked well and they regularly scored full marks in the tests. Another group of children always seemed to find that one or two facts would escape them, and they never got full marks in the test. Some children found the whole process extremely stressful, struggling to count on their fingers quickly enough to get their answers down on paper.
When I talked to the children about how they set about learning their tables, it quickly became apparent that some of them simply didn’t practice. And for many of them, their practice was ineffective. As the range of learning widened, what I needed was a quick, simple and effective way of getting everyone to practice effectively at their own level. I was looking for something that would result in a short session of highly focused practice, that didn’t require use of the IT suite, or involve me in pages of marking. I couldn’t find anything suitable on the market, so Flipp Flopps were born.
The first sets of Flipp Flopps were handmade and held together with treasury tags! I tried out different bindings to create a little booklet but these always fell to bits as the children used them.
However, I was delighted with how they worked. Each child chose the set of facts they needed to practise and wrote the answer on a scrap sheet of paper. They marked their own work and then tried again. After a bit of practice I asked them which facts they knew confidently and which they found hardest. Quite spontaneously other children shared their own tips for remembering the facts. Sometimes this was a rhyme (I ate and I ate ‘til I was sick on the floor, eight eights are sixty four) or a trick – ‘Do you know the nine times table finger trick?’ or sometimes a strategy, ‘To get to 6×7 you can just double 3×7’. I was able to step in and iron out misconceptions or add to the explanations with apparatus or diagrams on the whiteboard. And then the children returned to practising, trying out the new strategies and discussing what worked for them.
I carried on using Flipp Flopps in this way for some time, until a chance conversation with a fellow golfer got me thinking that perhaps my little idea was worth sharing with other teachers, parents and children. He suggested we make a prototype and send it to schools for proper testing to see what teachers thought. We found a printer and binder and a handful of schools willing to give it a go. We devised a pre and post test, some guidelines for the teachers, sent them off and held our breath. The results were overwhelmingly positive and I was delighted with the feedback- other people, real people had used my idea and found it worked!