Math is Figure-Out-Able with Pam Harris

Ep 35: Multiplication Facts: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Pt 2

February 16, 2021 Pam Harris
Math is Figure-Out-Able with Pam Harris
Ep 35: Multiplication Facts: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Pt 2
Chapters
Math is Figure-Out-Able with Pam Harris
Ep 35: Multiplication Facts: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Pt 2
Feb 16, 2021
Pam Harris

What are some great techniques to teach multiplication facts? What are the pitfalls to avoid? In this episode Pam and Kim discuss ways teachers may inadvertently 1) overemphasize speed, 2) introduce shame into their classrooms, and 3) focus on learning facts in isolation.  We've all made mistakes, and this episode is about learning and growing for our students.
Talking Points:

  • The negative effects of timed multiplication fact tests
  • How to avoid using shame as a motivator to learn facts (harder then you think!)
  • Why learning facts as isolated ideas is dangerous

Find this episode's transcript here: https://podcast.mathisfigureoutable.com/1062400/7773085-ep-35-multiplication-facts-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-pt-2


Show Notes Transcript

What are some great techniques to teach multiplication facts? What are the pitfalls to avoid? In this episode Pam and Kim discuss ways teachers may inadvertently 1) overemphasize speed, 2) introduce shame into their classrooms, and 3) focus on learning facts in isolation.  We've all made mistakes, and this episode is about learning and growing for our students.
Talking Points:

  • The negative effects of timed multiplication fact tests
  • How to avoid using shame as a motivator to learn facts (harder then you think!)
  • Why learning facts as isolated ideas is dangerous

Find this episode's transcript here: https://podcast.mathisfigureoutable.com/1062400/7773085-ep-35-multiplication-facts-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-pt-2


Pam:

Hey, fellow mathematicians, welcome to the podcast where math is figure-out-able I'm Pam.

Kim:

And I'm Kim.

Pam:

And we're here to suggest that mathematizing is not about mimicking or wrote memorizing, but it's about thinking and reasoning about creating and using mental relationships. That mathematics class can be less like it has been for so many of us and more like mathematicians working together. We answer the question, if not algorithms, then what?

Kim:

Y'all last week, we began an important series about multiplication facts, very important and shared some clarification around the words memorization, automaticity, and fluency. You'll definitely want to check out episode 34 for some important background information. In today's episode we want to talk about some of the more common routines that we see happening in classrooms to help students become fluent with multiplication facts. And we want to shed some light and some current research on why we believe some of these routines aren't maybe getting you the results that you really want. We're going to try to bring some awareness to the difference between what your goal is and what might actually be happening because of the ways that you might be trying to achieve your goal.

Pam:

Yeah. So we invite you to think about three main ideas, three indicators that describe efforts that will be less successful. So, number one, if that effort is using shame to motivate. Number two, teaching the facts in isolation as isolated things to be wrote memorized. And number three, it's all about timing; that it's about being fast. That to be good means you're quick.

So three things:

shame, facts in isolation, and speed.

Kim:

Yeah. So if these are important things to consider - something that we don't want - we would invite you to have these indicators in mind. As we discuss some activities today, ask yourself, do these routines have the potential to embarrass kids or to make them feel ashamed for their knowledge or lack thereof? Are they focused often on speed so that it appears that quickness matters most? And are they activities that tend to view facts as something learned in isolation rather than in connection to the other facts? Now this episode is not about shaming anyone.

Pam:

Yeah. We just mentioned that we don't want you to do shaming activities in your classroom. We also don't believe in shaming adults, shame doesn't work. It doesn't motivate, right? We're all about motivating positive growth. And we think you are too, that you want to motivate positive growth in your students. So we're going to discuss some of the prevalent ways that teachers try to help students learn their facts that because they're focused on shame, isolation and speed, they will be less successful than other equally fun, much more motivating activities that we can do with students that get really helpful results. Much more helpful. Results like the relationships between the facts and students who are knowing multiplicatively those relationships. And they'll also know the facts better than just in isolation. absolutely. So listen,

Kim:

Oh, I used some of these routines when I first began teaching, right? They were things that I participated in as a kid. And so it was what I was familiar with and what I thought were maybe some good ways to practice when I taught facts in isolation. So it's okay to have been there. It's also okay to do better when you know better. Exactly. It's all about doing better when you know better.

Pam:

Right. So today we're going to sort of help shed that light on how we can all know better a little bit more.

So let's talk about one of the most common routines:

time

Kim:

Yeah.

tests. Pam:

Yeah.

Kim:

Time tests are also maybe known as mad minutes or fat tests, you know, the kind right?

Yep. Kim:

So there might be a full page of basic

Pam:

Absolutely. multiplication problems. It could be all the same kind of facts, like a page of sixes or page of sevens, or maybe it's a full page of mixed problems, but either way kids are maybe passed out a page. And then once the teacher says it's time or maybe says go, they turn it over and have a certain amount of time, like maybe a minute or two or five to complete as many of the problems on the page as they can, before the timer goes off, or the teacher says stop. Or they might be at a computer and it might be the same sort of thing. Like it's like go and then they have so much time to do it and stop and time thing.

Yeah. Kim:

So the intended outcome is that students maybe know they have these practices and as they work on their facts, they get better and better over time, they have a measurable way to determine their progress. Definitely a speed component involved there.

Pam:

Right. But the actual outcome is at worst math anxiety and so many students who never really get good at the facts. And at best it's facts in isolation for almost all the rest of the students. That's a ton of students who never learned the facts,

Kim:

Yeah. but learn to have anxiety around math or students who have these disconnected facts and wrote memory, but can't actually use them to reason multiplicatively, which is our goal, right? So Jo Boaler from Stanford University has a great article out called "Research suggests timed tests cause math anxiety.". That's the title of the article. Okay. She clearly states quote, "evidence strongly suggests that timed tests cause the early onset of math anxiety for students across the achievement range", unquote, she found a study that found researchers now know that students experienced stress on time tests that they do not experience even when working on the same math question in untimed conditions. And then in a different study of first and second graders, researchers measured levels of anxiety. And they found that students as young, as first grade experienced math anxiety and that levels of math anxiety did not correlate with grade level reading level or parental income. Now that might sound kind of jargony, but let's get down to why that happens. Why do time tests cause math anxiety? When researchers analyze brain imaging data for seven to nine year olds while they were working on addition, subtraction problems and found that those students who felt panicky about math also had increased activity in brain regions associated with fear, right? They're feeling panicky. That makes sense. Right? Fear. Okay. But when those areas are activated, researchers found that decreased activity took place in the brain regions that are involved in problem solving. That's important. Literally students couldn't think as well. How does that make sense? Researchers use brain scans to show that when students compute with math facts like those in time tests, they recall information that's held in working memory. Researchers found that when people are stressed, the pressure blocks their working memory. And so facts that people are familiar with can't be recalled. You've probably felt this happen when you're in stress or pressure like in a public situation, when your mind goes blank, right? Joe bowler says, "this is the impact of stress blocking the working memory. When students who experienced stress in timed conditions find they cannot access their working memory, they underachieve, which causes them to question their math ability. And in many cases develop further stress and anxiety" unquote. So now we've got a ton of people who think they're not good at math, but in reality they just aren't great at recalling disconnected facts under pressure. Ya'll, that's not math. Yeah. So, it's funny that you are mentioning this research because I can remember the one time that I ever cried in math. I was so young. I was probably in second grade and I was brand new to a school. And first day, literally first day the teacher says, Oh, it's so great to have you in class. We're just about to do our fact practice. And I was like, sweet. I know my facts. So I get out a piece of notebook paper.

Pam:

So you're actually feeling really confident at this point.

Kim:

I was like, I'm going to do great. Right. She calls out the problems. And in the previous school that I had been at, you write the problem and the answer, okay. But in this school, apparently you just write the answer and I could not write

- Pam:

You didn't know that?

Kim:

I didn't know the rules. Right. And she's calling out so quickly and I couldn't write fast enough, but here's the thing. I also could not recall the answers to the problems fast enough. I was so flustered and I remember tears just coming down, I was panicked. I was absolutely panicked and I felt a little ashamed.

Pam:

So we mentioned time times tests, but also Kim, I'm so sorry. Like I feel for you. But in reality, how many people listening to this relate to that experience?

Kim:

Yeah. Yeah. Or have kids who also can relate to it. Right. At a young age. So we mentioned time, but there can also be a lot of shame as well, based on how this activity is facilitated. By asking kids to call out how many they got correct in front of their peers can have some shame, right. Or by announcing or marking, which page of facts, if it's a six and then a sevens and then an eights page, asking kids to tell what page number they're on can be super shameful.

Right? Pam:

Yeah. So this reminds me of my daughter's elementary class. So she was in fourth grade and they were doing this fact practice stuff in ways we don't prefer. And her thing that year was that she was earning an ice cream sunday. So if she could pass off a certain fact, like the eights or whatever, then she would, if she got enough of them right on a timed test, then she could add the hot fudge topping. Or if she got the fours then she could add the sprinkles or whatever. And it was very, very public. The picture of an ice cream sundae was hanging on the wall. And when they got it, they could color it in and everything. And then at the end of the year or sometime, or whatever, then whatever you'd earned, then they actually had this like ice cream sundae party. Could you imagine the kid who didn't get any or, you know, had ice cream only, or whatever. I mean, it was, it's a very public shaming kind of task that we're not

recommending. Kim:

Well, and it seems like the goal is to motivate or encourage students with these activities. Many students, it's not. You know, some of you might be saying that kids love competition. They love earning things. So let's break down why these maybe are not so helpful.

Right? Pam:

Because again, a lot of us experienced them. Some of us had success in those things. So it feels like, you know, let's keep doing these things. Even - it's funny, sometimes we talk to parents who were like, well, no, I hated that, but I know my kid needs to do it. And you're like, ah, maybe we can rethink that. So remember our three things, shame, time and isolation. So first, timed means that we're emphasizing speed as so important that we don't think it is. But notice how these activities, we just mentioned all make it be all about time. And then second, when you're competing in front of everybody that has high shame potential, everybody can see who's on what part of the sundae or when the teacher calls come get your sevens. It's all very public. And if you're the kids still on the fours, it doesn't help you be more motivated. Shame doesn't work that way. And these tasks are so focused on facts in isolation, not our goal. We want to learn the facts through relationships. Another thing that I saw that we'd like to talk about today, I walked into my kid's third grade classroom. It was one of those watershed moments when I realized I needed to get involved in my kids' elementary math education. It was honest, hardworking teachers who are just sort of missing what mathematics facts could be and should be. So let me describe these posters. They were all about rote memorization of the facts they were rhymes or pictures. And in fact, when we threw out on Twitter, Hey, what are the, some of the worst ways that you guys suggest the kids could learn facts? Richard Harvey Swanston gave us an example of a poster I had not seen. So this is not exactly the poster that was on my kid's third grade wall, but it has the same bent. So he tweeted some pictures of these posters. Let me describe one of these not-so-mathy posters, all right, you ready? All right, everybody. This is how you're going to learn this fact. So get it down. Here we go. There's a door and a sign next to the door. And the sign is covered with a bunch of sticks, like sticks off a tree, right? There's like a bunch of sticks that are like all over the sign. Okay. There you go. Like that invokes math. Right? We got it. Kim, what in the world? Is that supposed to help us?

Kim:

Yeah, I saw that poster. So the door represents the digit 4. The door. The door is four. And door times sign - sign is nine - so

Pam:

Okay. door times sign equals obviously dirty sticks, Oh, I forgot to mention that the sticks were dirty.

Kim:

So door times sign - four times nine - equals obviously dirty sticks, 36. And it shows a sign with the four on it. And the sticks are covering the picture. Right? It's all about memorizing this other thing that doesn't have anything to do with math, much like songs or rhymes that kids listen to over and over again. And what happens, right, if they memorize the song wrong or mix up the

posters. Pam:

In fact, one of the things that I sometimes say when we're working with teachers is I'll say,

hey, like a rhyme like this:

six times eight, like the garden gate is made of sticks. So it's 56. Shoot. I have that wrong... Right, because it's not six times eight and 56. Right. It's seven times eight. But if I memorize that rhyme wrong. So rote memorizing facts in isolation leaves students without any recourse when they can't remember it. And It's when not if they can't remember it. Y'all memory fails for everybody at some point. Okay. So let's talk about another kind of a thing that meets our three criteria. How about round the world? Now, maybe you call it something different in your class. Around the world for me looked like the teacher would say, okay, two students stand up and she would flash a fact and whoever got it right then got to stay up. And the other person was sort of shamed and sat down and, you know, bummer. And then, you know, we kept going round the world. The person who stayed standing went and stood next to someone else and they continue the thing. So your goal was to be the kid that was standing and keep going and woo,

whatever. So all the things:

like time, it was all about who could get it quicker. Shame, you had to sit down if you were the one that didn't get it right. And facts in isolation, it wasn't anything about how the facts are related to anything. It wasn't about their connections and multiplicative reasoning. It was just like this cold fact in front of other students. For all three reasons, around the world does not win. Go ahead,

Kim. Kim:

The most interesting part about this activity for me is that the kid who probably knows their facts the least and needs the most practice is the one who sits down right away.

Pam:

It was totally you that pointed that out to me. Like we were talking about all these things not to do. And I was like, well, around the world, it fits all three. And you're like, Oh, it fits a fourth. Like the kids that need the most practice are sitting down and the kid who doesn't need the most practice is the one who gets more practice because they're - yeah.

Kim:

Well and I was going to tell you that I was actually having a conversation with one of my sons. And apparently it's a thing that if you know you're going to play this game, you just get out the first round. If you feel like you're not successful. And then you just get to sit there while all the

- Pam:

I never thought of that in elementary school! Man, I just kept myself like tensed and primed. Ready to go.

Kim:

So when you're choosing a computer program or a game or an activity for students, don't choose those who are all about speed and being fast, or those who shame students who were slower, those that are all about rote memorizing facts in isolation. So what should you choose?

Pam:

Exactly. Well, to listen to the podcast next week. We try to keep these podcasts manageable that you can listen to them in your commute, or when you get a moment of time, we know you guys are busy parents and teachers. So in next week's podcast, we're going to give you examples of our favorite tasks, activities, and games to promote real mathematics and learning the facts at the same time.

Kim:

Remember to join us on MathStratChat on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram on Wednesday evenings, where we explore problems with the world.

Pam:

Yeah. And please share with your friends and colleagues the podcast, give us a rating and a review so that more people can find the podcast so we can spread the word to the world that math is Figure-Out-Able. So if you're interested to learn more mathematics and you want to help yourself and your students develop as mathematicians, then don't miss the Math is Figure-Out-Able Podcast because math is figure-out-able!