The Story Begins…

I learned a lot about teaching and story telling as I made the series Times Tables Make Sense. A comicbook was a new form for me, a form that uses few words, many fewer than I use when I’m actually in front of a class. But as I was making the comic, I had the same questions in mind: what do they know, what do I want them to learn, and how are we all feeling about it.

I like to get clear with students what the task at hand is.

We can’t all get to the same destination unless it is circled on the map.



What prior knowledge do they bring? Nothing to make the task appealing, it seems. Flashcards! Some people love them, but for many students (and their parents) they mean tussles over homework, and agonizing attempts to memorize facts that have no meaning. Then there are the latest equivalent of flashcards, the hundreds of online games that drill facts without context or meaning.

I like to find out what feelings are in the room. Sometimes naming the feelings helps us get a handle on them, so they don’t overwhelm our ability to learn. It’s good to find out who else is feeling the same way. Makes the task more do-able somehow.

Do you notice the dog sneaking up?


The task is real. The third year of primary school marks the beginning of multiplication for many students. In the USA common core guidelines say “…By the end of Grade 3, (they should) know from memory all products of two one-digit numbers.”  (US Common Core Curriculum, 3.OA.C.7 ) There are similar standards in Canadian provinces, with some provinces aiming for meeting the goal by the end of grade 3, and others allowing up to grade 5 to complete the task. In England, there is a compulsory national on-line test of the tables up to 12 x 12 for students in year 4 of primary schooling.

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