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Times Tables - The Worst Way to Teach Multiplication

How "the times tables" and "multiplication facts" kill any real learning. Instead, help your child develop a sense for numbers and their relationship to each other, and what to do about it.

Learning the "multiplication tables" is one of the first traumas that children usually face when learning arithmetic. 

Ask ten elementary-school kids to tell you what, say, eight times seven is. Watch as they look up and to their left (or right) and go into, "let's-see" mode. Often you'll hear them say, "Um, ah..." before give you the answer. Generally, there's a lot of hesitation. Only then, do they actually give you the answer. Sometimes it's even correct. 

I know, I was one of them. Maybe you were, too. Most children are victimized by the thoughtless, authoritarian, wrong way to teach the "multiplication facts" (what a stupid term!)

Why are "the tables" the wrong way to learn? Maybe I can illustrate it best by analogy. Imagine that you wanted your children to learn the names of all their cousins, aunts and uncles. But you never actually let them meet or play with them. You just showed them pictures of them, and told them to memorize their names. 

Each day you'd have them recite the names, over and over again. You'd say, "OK, this is a picture of your great-aunt Beatrice. Her husband was your great-uncle Earnie. They had three children, your uncles Harpo, Zeppo, and Gummo. Harpo married your aunt Leonie...yadda, yadda, yadda.


But what if you had them all over for the weekend, and you found out Earnie did magic tricks, Beatrice had been a rodeo queen, Zeppo always wore mismatching socks, Harpo played the, well, you know, Gummo picked his nose and wiped it on his tie, and Leonie could sing like an angel?

Well, then you'd have some relationship with them, wouldn't you? The next time you saw Earnie, you'd ask him to show you a trick. You'd ask his daughter Leonie if she could teach you to sing, and you'd stay away from Gummo's tie. 

It turns out that you can build relationships with multiplications, as well. And they have relationships with each other. You already know some of them. Like the relationship of nine to ten. Nine is one less than ten, so when you multiply something by nine, just stick a zero at the end of it, and subtract the original number. 

Take the example 8*9. Just stick a zero behind the 8 to get 80. Next, subtract 8 from 80, and you've got 72, which is the correct answer to 8 multiplied by 9. 

That is the intuitive way for many people to multiply by 9. So why do they make you stare at the nine-times-table in school? It's boring and fosters no sense of the relationship of nine to the other numbers. It turns multiplication into isolated "multiplication facts" (there's that stupid term again).  

If you had children multiply by nine with the subtraction method often enough, they'd know the answers in their bones after awhile. It would take less time than it would to memorize the nine-times-tables by rote, and it would have them actively involved with using the numbers. Imagine that!

This may be hard to digest at first, because learning the "multiplication facts" by rote has been ingrained into the school system for decades. Maybe that is why our children are getting worse and worse at this easy, important skill. 

If you're a teacherComputer Technology Articles, you're probably fed up with the bad mojo from the policy-makers. You need to get your own mojo working. 

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If you are serious about teaching multiplication, you owe it to your child or your students to check out the "Numbers Juggling" e-booklet and e-course to learn to multiply at

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