* Memory fun

From TED talks to neuroscience journals, the consensus on improving memory is clear: make information fun, meaningful, and visual-spatial, while training the brain to focus.  Most of the videos I’ve watched emphasize memory of facts, dates, spelling, and playing cards  (Not sure that minors need to memorize decks of cards in less than 5 minutes but it might help with Hearts or Spades.)  Did you know that there are memory athletes who compete in how quickly they can memorize hundreds of names?

While we are not only teaching facts to be memorized, these athletes do have some useful tips for the load of information required at each grade level.  Multiplication.com, for example, effectively uses a story-mode with unusual characters to support memorization of times tables.

An ancient Greek strategy uses places (“loci”) to help store information.  For example, you picture the words or concepts you want to recall in familiar places, attached to a vivid story.  To memorize the six syllable types, I could walk up my front steps to find the door has turned to glass.  It is CLOSED so I whack the glass to OPEN it.  As soon as I walk inside, I see an unfamiliar band playing in the hallway but can’t hear anything.  And how did they get in my house?  I step closer and notice they are all wearing band tee shirts saying SILENT E, which is weird, right?  I run to the kitchen and grab my phone to call the police, keying in my cLE password (c for consonant).  The police send a special V-TEAM to sort things out, but those guys end up in the hallway playing with the Silent Es!  I’m about to give up when some lady on a motorcycle revs out of the living room!  The loud RRRR sound scares everyone away!  motorcycle

Okay, that’s a bit lame, but I guarantee that if a student or class create a picture story using spaces in the school building, they will remember all of the syllable types.  And just imagine the fun they’ll have!  Where does the meaningful part come in?  Guiding students to understand the benefits of learning those syllable types or multiplication facts.  Learning about memory and how to improve it.  Helping them make connections with previously learned material.  Practical and social applications, like being a student memory jock.  And maybe some of your kiddos will end up in memory triathlons!


* Teachers celebrate, parents navigate

dog jumping for joy“It’s that most wonderful time of the year….”  La la la!  As the last day of school approaches in my neck of the woods, teachers are running and stumbling to the finish line.  For most of them on a “traditional” school calendar, the last quarter has been all about testing, and in the past couple of weeks, stripping the classroom bare.  Kids’ projects and paperwork are filed in grocery bags outside classroom doors.  Some teachers are ready to lock and walk.  Others, like me before retirement, aren’t even close.

If parents have been smart (and have the resources), they’ve already lined up camps, tutoring, home schedules, babysitters, and vacations.  Many special needs kids need their summers carefully orchestrated, from being free of all school work to engaging in a steady schedule of predictable and interesting activities.  All kids should read and practice math facts during the summer.  Lots of schools provide year-round access to familiar learning sites, with links from their media center’s website.  Many excellent online resources are free, such as multiplication.com and ABCya.  Your local library may be a refreshing alternative to muggy summer days.  Audiobooks are a perfect resource for longer car rides or relaxing before bed.

Want to help?  Check out your community for opportunities to provide food for low income families.  Without school meals, kids may go hungry.  Some communities also offer opportunities to volunteer as a reader to students who might otherwise lack access to books during the summer.  Since stores usually start stocking school supplies early, buy extras this summer to donate to families who can’t afford that growing list of required supplies.

Enjoy your summer!

* Multiplication.com: More than ever

I’ve reviewed Multiplication.com in the past and successfully used Alan Walker’s unique system with special needs learners, but it’s time for an update.

Multiplication.com has awesome new features which make it even more irresistible.  First, site navigation has been added which highlights its 9 key areas (only 5 in my original post).  These now include: Fact Foundation, Video Lessons, Games, Fact Navigator, Game Navigator, Quiz Navigator, Books for sale (worth getting, folks!), Tests and Quizzes, and Resources.

The updated and expanded quiz section is marvelous.  There are now quizzes on addition, subtraction, and division facts (and multiplication, of course).  What makes these quizzes special?  After completion, you may instantly create a pdf that records date, time, duration of quiz, and score; whether picture cues were used; all responses; a corrected answer sheet; and flash cards on missed items.  The quiz itself allows students to self-correct after completion.  I am not sure how they did this, but each question now pops up in an enlarged box, which reduces distraction and allows students to use a keyboard or touchpad.  Even more encouraging for kids, as each item is completed, it disappears from sight, making the quiz shrink as students complete their responses.  The entire program is mobile friendly, too.

The games section has been enlarged with all sorts of new activities and improved with links to specific skills or types of games (such as required operation, multiplayer, classics, and arcade style games).

Teacher resources are astounding.. Here’s the student management system you get for FREE:

Multiplication 1

If you are not signed up for their blog, you should be!   The blog is searchable by a number of useful topics, including literacy, teachers talk, homeschooling, and much more.

Multiplication.com is a terrific site for improving understanding and fluency of basic operations.  Many of the high-priced sites purchased by some school districts have an enormous amount of wasted time embedded in games and do not address foundational understanding of operations.  This site is a great match for special needs kids and it’s FREE!  

* Final thoughts on student using multiplication.com

multiplication.com 2My special math student, Khalil, finished 4th grade having memorized his multiplication and division facts to 11, thanks to the unique language-based approach by Alan Walker at multiplication.com.  Here are the highlights of Khalil’s performance:

  1. This was the first time Khalil had ever memorized any math facts.  It was the first time he had demonstrated fluency with math facts.  On his last quiz, Khalil scored 95% (with a couple of self-recognized errors) in under three minutes.
  2. Khalil’s dramatic improvement in learning boosted his confidence in math overall.
  3. He began to solve word problems using multiplication and division.
  4. The memorization process in his brain changed significantly.  He started memorizing facts without referring to the associated stories.  His memory appeared more typical as repeated practice actually helped him recall facts, which had not been the case prior to using this strategy.
  5. He was eager to learn these facts, tracking his progress on a multiplication.com times table chart.
  6. This process ensured that he understood the commutative property of multiplication.  Khalil LOVED the commutative property!
  7. Khalil both learned from and enjoyed the multiplication.com games.  We both hummed the tune from “Sketch’s World” uncontrollably!

Khalil’s math problems are severe enough for him to be identified with dyscalculia.  However, if you have students who struggle with only specific facts, multiplication.com could be an effective strategy to try this summer.  The site could also keep your kids fluent in multiplication facts simply by playing games.  I’ve heard that Sketch’s World has a catchy tune.

If you haven’t checked out multiplication.com lately, you’re in for a treat!  The site has just released a student management system for tracking class progress, along with new resources for teaching individual times tables.  Each fact also features improved videos of the multiplication stories.  I’m not sure how long they can keep this FREE, so sign up while you have a chance!  Definitely sign up for their monthly newsletter.  It’s packed with great teaching ideas and materials.

No, I don’t get a commission.  Maybe I should ask….

* The Summer Slide

waterslide-398249_640And despite the illustration, I don’t mean summer fun!  I’m referring to the long gap in a traditional school calendar, where kids may lose a month or two of mathematical computation skills.  For struggling learners who already have a tenuous grasp on math facts, “summer slide” is a serious concern.  How do you provide ongoing math practice when these same students need a break from a fatiguing school year?  Many of these kids will spend their days in sports camps, community summer programs, and other endeavors while their parents are at work.

Check out multiplication.com’s monthly newsletter devoted to this topic.  You’ll be amazed at the wealth of ideas in a single page!  TV free activities, online games, summer-themed fun, and more.  I believe if your child spends just 20-30 minutes a day engaging in fun review of math facts, they will approach the upcoming school year with greater confidence.  It might just help me, too!

* Confident! Update using Alan Walker’s multiplication.com

Confident!  “I learn this way!”  Those words describe Khalil’s current math trajectory thanks to the multiplication.com approach.  For those of you who’ve just joined this conversation, Khalil is a fourth grader who struggles in school, currently with math.  Math disabilities run through his family (I’ve taught three of his siblings), so it’s no surprise that this area has been a challenge.  No surprise, also, that it took a couple of years for his school performance to indicate that he was totally lost.  He managed to learn some procedures and used the visual cues on K, 1, and 2 worksheets to grope his way through.  He was never proficient, but early reading and writing struggles were the areas that caused him to act out.  He and I worked heavily on those weaknesses since reading trumps math.  His teachers and I collaborated on strategies to reduce his anxiety about writing and his behavior improved.

Worth buying this book!

Worth buying this book!

By third grade, Khalil had stopped darting under tables when it was time to write, but his math weaknesses had become acute.  Multiplication and division were layered over a foundation of sand.  Khalil had never memorized any addition and math facts and until recently, didn’t even understand basic operations.  In the midst of his math crisis, I decided that learning multiplication and division facts would be more useful than retracing our steps for basic operations in addition and subtraction.  Why?  Because Khalil was the only kid in his class who hadn’t memorized any facts- not even the ones and zeroes- and he knew it.   And his behavior problems skyrocketed as a consequence.  Hence, Alan Walker’s unique approach to learning multiplication.

Guess what?  In spite of our erratic scheduling, Khalil has almost memorized ALL his multiplication facts using the language-based approach of multiplication.com.  He is accurate and fast.  But his success in doing that has rippled outward in some unexpected and fantastic ways:

  1. Khalil has developed confidence. Amazing!  His anxiety has lessened as he memorized facts previously out of reach.
  2. His confidence led him to return to a strategy we had attempted years ago for adding and subtracting using visual cues.  Now he can add and subtract “naked” numbers (more on that later).
  3. His confidence made it possible for us to return to the basic operations and relearn change, part-part-whole, and comparison problems using addition and subtraction.  He can now create his own single step word problems for both operations!
  4. His confidence has made it possible for us to explore multiplicative processes (which includes division), both for equal group and comparison.  He never knew there was a relationship between multiplication and division!

Is the struggle over?  No.  He has no idea what fractions and decimals are all about.  Or perimeter and area.  Or two-step problems.  He has some horrible family issues.  But he also has a wonderful classroom teacher and a supportive extended family.  And thanks to the clever strategies of multiplication.com, Khalil has confidence!

* Update using Multiplication.com

mem-in-minutes-covers           mult-flash-covers

Wow.  I am VERY impressed with this program by Alan Walker!  Check it out at multiplication.com.  My student, Khalil, is now up to facts through 7 x 3.  We just met after a long break and he remembered all but one fact.  That is remarkable!  On a timed quiz today, Khalil scored 95% on his times tables.  If you haven’t been following this blog, Khalil is a fourth grader who had not previously memorized ANY math facts, not even addition.  He is so thrilled and expresses a new confidence about his math skills.  I am obviously very pleased that I tried this program!  Not every child’s brain struggles to memorize facts, but what a perfect strategy for those kids who do.  I had my doubts, but now I’m a believer!

* Update #2 on student using multiplication.com

16Wow.  I am amazed.  I admit it: I was a bit skeptical about the process of learning “stories” for each multiplication fact, but Khalil is making tremendous progress!  First of all, he could not multiply ANY numbers when we started, not even by ones or zeroes.  Yesterday he completed a 40 problem online quiz for the zeroes, ones, and twos times tables in just over a minute with 100% accuracy!  And he only sees me twice a week!  (And we have to complete his homework, too!)  This is a kid who has never had any math fluency.  In three years of trying to learn addition and subtraction facts, he averaged about 12 problems per minute.

Here’s the coolest part to me.  Of course, Khalil has been asking for a copy of all his quizzes because he is thrilled to experience success.  So yesterday he showed his mother the super results and I finally told her how he is learning these facts.  I knew that if I had some initial doubts, she would most likely think this process is crazy.   Her first reaction was, “How come you just don’t say, two times nine is eighteen?”  And Khalil answered, “THIS IS THE WAY I LEARN!   IT HELPS ME!”  Go Khalil!  And a big thanks to multiplication.com.  The best is yet to come for Khalil!

* Update on student using Multiplication.com

learn a factIn a previous post, I shared information about the unique mnemonic strategies developed by Alan Walker of Multiplication.com.  I purchased the materials for use with a fourth grader who has been unsuccessful in memorizing any addition facts, much less multiplication.  Due to holidays and other scheduling issues, the student has only had three sessions of about 20 minutes each using this approach.  In that time, he has memorized the mnemonics for each numeral from 1 to 9 and knows FOUR facts!  Khalil and I are obviously really pleased!  I think he was amazed that he really only had to memorize 36 facts (excluding ones, zeros and repeats; with all the practice on multiplication.com for his two’s times tables, Khalil no longer struggles with 1s and 0s! ).  His confidence has improved, the stories for each fact are appealing to him, and if we didn’t have the tyranny of inappropriate homework, he could be a lot farther along.

The back story:  I am still unhappy about his homework.  I do know there’s no easy solution for kids who are years below grade level.  However, I think that if he could work on underlying skills, Khalil has a chance at catching up.  He did move up to grade level when we focused on reading for two years; he shot forward when I taught him basic phonological and phonics skills.  But I suspect that Khalil has a math disability, based upon how intervention-resistant he is.  He is now being considered for a Tier 3 intervention in the Response to Instruction program.  As I feared, all these school frustrations have led to some significant behavior problems in the regular classroom.  Khalil is adorable but is getting a reputation as aggressive and defiant.

I’ll keep you posted!

* Multiplication.com update #1

learn a factIn my review of Multiplication.com, the website created by Alan Walker, I said I would begin this program with a student who is far below grade level in math.  In case you haven’t read the review of that site, Walker’s approach provides a visual image and rhyming words related to each numeral.  The images are then combined in a funny or interesting story using multiplication facts (so 2 x 3 = six has a related story called “shoe x tree equals sticks”).

The program begins with an assessment of multiplication facts and a review of the commutative property of multiplication.  My student, Khalil, does not recall any multiplication facts.  He remembers the zero property of multiplication about 50% of the time, when prompted.  He does not remember the identity property (multiplying by one) without prompting.  Khalil cannot identify the commutative property by name but understands the concept.

Here’s what happened: First, I showed Khalil all the facts he must learn, using a multiplication table provided in the teacher’s manual.  The facts for zero and one are grayed out, as are all the other repeated facts (due to the commutative property).  I had already highlighted a chart in a similar fashion but had not thought about eliminating the repeated facts.  When Khalil saw how few facts he had to learn, he was much more encouraged than when looking at the chart I had created!  Khalil memorized the associated names and pictures for the numerals in less than ten minutes.  He was not stressed by the process (as he is with a lot of math).  In fact, he really enjoyed it because he likes word play.  The only “sticking” point was that the number six seems to be associated with both “sticks” and “chick.”  I think “sticks” is a preferable rhyme, but in chicks are characters in some stories.  Khalil could play games with the memorized associations immediately.  He has only had one lesson, and only got to one multiplication fact, but he memorized that very quickly (and enjoyed saying it).

The author recommends daily sessions of 5 to 10 minutes per day.  He also suggests careful review if you have to add more content in one session.  I work with Khalil twice a week, so I will have to cover a lot of ground per session.  On the other hand, Khalil can practice these stories on the website at home, too.  Both Khalil and I are excited about this process and I look forward to more positive updates!