Sunday, January 16, 2011

Climbing Multiplication Mountain

My coworker and I recently had a conversation with my principal (who happens to be a fabulous administrator) about multiplication that went something like this: 

Us: We need to buy some multiplication wrap-ups
Princ: Why?
Us: So students will practice their math facts at home...
Princ: How's that piece of plastic going to help them learn math facts?
Us: It's fun! They'll WANT to use them and learn math facts.
Princ: You can motivate them without the shiny, new toy.
Us: (a little deflated, but seeing his point): Okay.

Alright, so this was a very shortened version of the actual conversation, but you get the idea. The funny thing is, before the talk was even over, I was already thinking of ideas to motivate my students. The problem in my room is that about 1/3 of my students just haven't learned their multiplication facts yet, despite all of my efforts: games, skip-counting, daily drills, partner drills, videos, music, computer practice...So it must be a motivation issue. Armed with this knowledge and with information from my current read, The Power of Our Words, I've decided to approach the issue as a team-building opportunity. I'm calling it Multiplication Mountain.

I'll start with an envisioning question such as, "What would it be like in our class if everyone knew their multiplication facts? How would it help you as a mathematician? What would it take to make sure that everyone learned their multiplication facts?" As a class, we'll discuss these items, then I'll make an envisioning statement such as, "By the end of this year, mathematicians, I hope that you will work together so that everyone will know their multiplication facts like the back of their hands." Then we'll discuss how members of a community help one another and work together, sort of like mountain climbing. (We recently watched a video about a man with cerebral palsey who climbed El Capitan). 

We'll talk about how climbers depend on one another to reach the top of the mountain. One may be in the lead but teamwork gets everyone to the top. It may be easy in the beginning (0's, 1's, 2's) but the work gets harder the higher we climb. 

I even spent a little while Saturday night (I know--I'm a nerd) drawing a poster-sized mountain and printing stick people to represent each student in my class. From now on when we do daily drills, everyone will do the number that he/she is currently working on. Sounds confusing, but really it's not that difficult to keep up with. Once a student passes the quiz with a 90% three times in a row he can move his stick person up to the next level on Multiplication Mountain. The following day, he will practice the next level of facts. During math choices every day students are able to chose "Expanding Facts" as an option. I will encourage the students who need the most help with math facts to choose this activity more often. We'll celebrate one another's successes as each person climbs the mountain, and also encourage students to work together to "pull up" the ones lagging behind. I'm also planning to find a separate "fact practice" time during the day for the 5-6 students who need the extra help. (Not sure where that time's going to come from, but I have a few ideas. I'm hoping that this exercise will make the classroom community even stronger, while motivating ALL students to learn work together and learn their facts. 

I'll let you know how it goes. How about you? Have you done something similar? Please share.


  1. Yes, we brainstormed how we can all help ourselves and each other learn the facts.

    How are you doing drills? I really like Laura Candler's method using the white boards. You can see how to do it in her Mastering Math Facts Power Pack.

    We color in our Ice Cream sundaes working towards an ice cream party. I know Alfie, Punishment By Rewards, but actually I read in a book about motivation and the brain that rewards ARE effective for mundane tasks like memorizing facts, as long as it isn't competitive and working towards a common reward while receiving individual reward is best. There is very little intrinsic motivation for most kids to practice their facts, so everyone working toward a whole class reward seems to help motivate. Also, I think we need to still keep in mind that there are some kids that CAN NOT memorize their facts! So how can we make sure they are successful, too?

  2. Rebecca and Donna,
    Great comment! I agree with what you said about the rewards. There can still be aplace for rewards without letting them take over the classroom and damaging motivation. Have you read this post on The Corner Stone for Teachers?:

    As for the drills, I'm basically doing timed fact drills from a book. Before we do the drills, we usually review the facts orally, or using this site: Sometimes we also watch the old multiplication rock videos on Youtube. I'll definitely check out Laura Candler's resource as well--always looking for new ideas!

    As for ensuring success for all learners, I'm still working on that one. My plan is to reduce the number of problems they do on the drills and work with them individually during computer lab time on some days. We'll see if that helps...



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