March 12, 2011

A multiplication menagerie...

Our eight-year-old twin boys are as different as can be.  This is evident in nearly every part of their lives, including their schoolwork.  Even in learning math, a subject at which they both excel, their skills and approach to learning it are vastly different.  We've seen daily reminders of that as we’ve been working on multiplication this year in our homeschooling.
Zach has a keen understanding of the concepts involved in multiplication, and given enough time can multiply anything by anything pretty accurately, including problems with three-digit numbers.   Give him one of those bad boys to work on and he’ll slowly but surely lay down uniform-sized and evenly-spaced numerals all in their proper positions, finding the correct answer in his tempered and thorough way more often than not.  But he does not have the times table memorized.  He can figure each of these simpler problems out, but doesn’t have those facts all committed to memory yet.  This adds to the amount of time it takes him to complete the afore-mentioned bad boy problems.
And then there’s our Daniel.  Daniel is one of those kids whose hand can’t keep up with his brain.  He memorizes easily and is able to calculate complicated math problems in his head with unusual speed and accuracy for his age.  When it’s time to tackle the multiple-digit problems and he’s forced to write them down, he usually gets them right unless his somewhat sloppy and hasty handwriting style throw him off.  He has memorized the pattern to follow in solving these problems, but really doesn’t understand nor care why it works.
Rather than let their differences throw a monkey wrench into teaching them simultaneously, I’ve found ways over the years to make the most of their complementary skills.  With such different strengths, they can be a real help to each other.
But since it is my job to teach them, and not theirs to teach each other, I’ve also had to be a little creative in order to strengthen each of their weaknesses without having to work one-on-one all the time.  There are only so many hours in a school day.
This is where stuffed animals came in recently, my go-to tool for making learning more fun and therefore more successful.  I had them bring twelve animals into the living room.  We lined those little fluffy friends up against the wall and placed in front of each a piece of paper with a large number on it, the answers to whatever-digit-we-were-working-on times one through twelve.  We stood and faced our helpful zoo and worked on our times table facts out loud.  I said the math fact, and they repeated it as we looked at each animal and their number from left to right.  With all the exuberance I could muster, I would lead the kids through, “One times seven is seven…two times seven is fourteen…three times seven…” and so on.  But it wasn’t my face on which they were focused.  They were looking at our line-up of stuffed animals and associating a particular animal with the answer to each problem.  After we practiced for a while we’d turn away from the animals and I’d throw a problem at the kids.  If they hesitated I’d cue them with something like, “Mitsy knows this one.”  As they remembered that Mitsy the elephant was in the eighth position, they’d picture her with her number and confidently say, “Fifty-six.”  Even our six-year-old Audra is in on the action, learning the ones through the sevens.  We'll move on to memorizing the eights soon, but with spring arriving we may try this fun method outside with chalk on the sidewalk.
Our stuffed animal multiplication has helped Zach in his memorizing, speeding him up as he does those bigger problems on his math worksheets.  And it has forced Daniel to slow down and notice the patterns in our almost-living times table, which strengthens the basic concepts of multiplication for him.  This has helped him think more logically about the process when tackling those bigger problems, rather than relying on memorization.
Worksheets are still the mainstay of our math schoolwork, providing the opportunity to practice and test what the kids are learning.  But I find that once in a while it’s good to get out of our chairs and spend some time with some old friends.  You might be surprised how helpful bulldogs, bears, and bunnies are with multiplication.

1 comment:

  1. Can I come to your home school? I'm not creative at all. :)