Saturday, 17 February 2018

Education

A lot of us are writing about education today - I don't know why.   My post is prompted by an article in today's Guardian by Peter Bradshaw - 'I can't do my times tables and I don't care.'

I agree with him, and with Rachel, Gwil and Cro, all of whom say similar things about education in different ways.

Bradshaw argues that times tables are completely useless and that number bonds (i.e. ways of making ten - e.g. 7+3 or 8+2) are more important.

How I feel having taught in Comprehensive schools for all my working life, is that much of what we learn is pretty useless unless we happen to be about to make a career in the particular subject.
For example - a student who wishes to be a doctor needs (presumably) science subjects across the board, whereas someone who intends to become a
Librarian needs a very good grounding in English.

But what we all need, without a shadow of doubt, is to learn how to learn, to be given a grounding in developing an enquiring mind and given the 'tools' to take it further.  

From all my schooling I have always thought that times tables and number bonds were perhaps the most useful things I learnt, alongside the urge to be constantly learning, using the skills I was given.

Many is the time when, out with my friends, times tables crop up when working something out (dare I say often dividing up the lunch bill!!) and somebody usually says - good job I know my tables.

Are they still taught in school or are they one of the things that has fallen by the wayside? I know there was a time in Junior schools when if something interesting cropped up a good teacher was able (becoming aware of how the children were all so fascinated by it) to drop her planned lessons and concentrate wholly on the thing that had caught their imagination, working maths, english, history, geography, outdoor skills, art - the lot - all into a 'project'.   I doubt this is possible any more.   And I really wonder whether children do chant their tables until they know them

What is your view on tables and number bonds - are they essential or have you managed without them.   I know a lot of students who left school with minimum qualifications in these skills and then would turn up on the check out at Tesco a few months after they left when I went to do my shopping.

33 comments:

Elizabeth said...

Seems to me that primary school children can learn pretty much anything - their minds are so quick and flexible. That said, I fear they do not learn times tables. Henry asks us stuff like what's 7X8? when playing Prodigy a leaning game (on the wretched computer!). I also fear learning poems by heart is a skill not much valued.
I'm afraid the the charming Patrick Leigh Fermoy rather overdid it with his lengthy list of stuff he had learned to recite....
And yes to stopping the planned lesson when something exciting and important happens. I always did. We always rushed to the window when the first snow flakes fell.
And we are expecting more snow here today......

Tom Stephenson said...

I was bamboozled by attempts to teach me abstract mathematics before I had got to grips with the simplest of applied maths. 'If X = Y...' etc. I remember the very day I decided to give up.

janipi said...

I think times tables and number bonds can be taught in a fun way. In reception class we have fun with a large floor sized snakes and ladders and look for number patterns up to a hundred. etc. Adding, subtracting all can be taught while having fun with games. Times tables can be put to music and played while doing art or other things. The brain will absorb an amazing amount when there is no stress to do so. Then later, when it comes to equations and algorithms the child understands what the principles are and it makes maths more interesting.Timestables help with mental arithmetic and we probably need that knowledge most days of our busy lives. Education does not need to be boring. I wish the government would step back and encourage intuition and creativity in new teachers.

Heather said...

I remember learning my times tables and still use them. I think that with so much computerised today, it is possibly thought unnecessary to know one's tables anymore, but they would still be very useful.
We learned so many things by heart when I was at school - in the 40s and 50s - poems, songs, passages from Shakespeare.
I have always thought that a good 'all round' education is very advantageous, especially as so many school leavers do not know exactly what career they would like to follow.

Hilary said...

I am appalled that children no longer are learning to write cursive.......what an awful development.

Maria said...

We had to learn our tables til 12 x 12 by by heart - every morning our class teacher drew a clock on the black board with a number in the center and changing it as he tested us. I didn't like tables but enjoyed algebra. I still have difficulty with my 8 and 9 times table.
Greetings Maria x

Mac n' Janet said...

I think times tables are an essential in math, they shape our thinking about numbers, they're the basis of division and factoring. People get bored, may I say teachers, times tables aren't exciting, they' re just rote memory. But once you have them you have them for life. LEARN YOUR TABLES.

Sue in Suffolk said...

I learned times tables just like Maria above, a clock on the blackboard with a number in the centre all the way to 12x 12 off by heart, still can recite them - very handy when watching Countdown. Nearly always get the numbers and often beat the contestants.
Although I fail at the word rounds!

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

We were still learning our tables when I was at school in the 60s. I also know a significant and useful amount of the tables up to the 20x, the result of playing darts for many years! I don't think anything we learn is totally useless; if nothing else it provides exercise for the brain, which needs exercise just as much as the body.

Granny Sue said...

Times tables and number bonds are basics to so many other math functions, I cannot imagine an adult not knowing them and using them regularly. I know that I do, even as a retiree.

About learning in general: I attended a very small Catholic school for elementary (primary) grades, and one thing the nuns taught us was how to learn. They also taught us how to think critically among many other life skills. I value that education so much, particularly when I returned to school at 36 for a college degree and eventually my Masters in Library Science. That early groundwork stood me in good stead even all those years later.

jinxxxygirl said...

I loved school as a child.. oh i was terribly shy... i didn't love school for the other kids i loved learning.. I memorized my times tables and still know them today and they have served me well.

I do believe in playing up to a childs interests and strengths but still having a well rounded education. Children change so much as they grow.. i know my daughter wanted to be 20 different things when she grew up and that was just in one year. They are like sponges.

I wish teachers had more freedom to well... be teachers.. Hugs! deb

Rachel Phillips said...

I have never heard the expression "number bonds" before but I see what they are and they come naturally to anyone who knows their tables I would have thought, one without the other seems tosh and a waste of breath or newspaper column to talk about. I can't imagine life without knowing my tables, quickens everything and eliminates the need for a calculator most of the time. You can't go far wrong with knowing your tables and having plenty of nous and if you've got that you can probably pass 2 A levels and get to university if that's what you need for your chosen career. Unless you want a career that demands a university degree I would say go straight out to work and be willing to start at the bottom and learn. You will see far more of life, be a better person for it and grow up quicker.

Joanne Noragon said...

I've never been strong in math, though I did learn my nines tables by multiplying by ten and subtracting nine. I'd rather that didn't get around. My approach to life always has been to know everything. It probably makes me a bit of a snot, but it works well.

Derek Faulkner said...

Rachel said it all for me.
The best things children can learn is their times tables and spelling and then like Rachel said, get out to work, start at the bottom and realise that some of the fanciful career ideas that you had at school really aren't going to happen.
The one subject at school that I really couldn't see the point of, was algebra, what was it's purpose.

Jennifer said...

I had to learn my times tables by chanting them, as so many here did. It's been useful my whole life and was certainly not a waste of time. I think to instill a love of reading in children is equally (or maybe more) important.

A Heron's View said...

I learnt my tables from 2 times to 16 times, at first it was difficult as are all lessons. I was fortunate in having parents who were skilled in arithmetic and higher maths.
Very like Tom I was unable to get to grips with algebra much to my father's dismay.
Today as I approach the till I know exactly how much my goods have cost me and of what change I will get when I proffer my cash and quite often the cashiers look at me in surprise when they find out that my mind works faster than their adding machines.

Thus I think that mental arithmetic aids mental agility.

Frugal in Essex Tania said...

I think these basic tools are very important building blocks just like the phenetic sounds to English. My children went through different learning techniques to my grandchildren which have gone back to the basics.

Jane Karwat said...

My grandkids do not learn times table and I think it would help them. I actually do not understand what they are learning in math, If I help I have to read the chapter first. I always end up using my times table to solve the problems.

Gabrielle Howard Gengler said...

Time tables were taught in third grade class for me. It came so easy and so fun. You’re right I use the timetables all the time! My grandson Zayn is 12. He is so bright in math! Some minds don’t have difficulty with math. He’s one them! My hat goes off to good teachers! They are the backbone for our youth. Gabs

Ruth said...

You've just triggered a rush of memories. There's not a day goes by that I don't use the things I learned in school, including a year of Latin and a year of algebra. How do I use algebra? I have no idea but my feeling is that everything we learned contributes to how we use our brains. I'm forever grateful for that year of Latin, even though I would have failed but for my teacher giving me a passing grade. I struggled with memorizing declensions, etc. It's helped with word meanings and spelling to this day. My fondest memory is of a high school English teacher beginning six weeks of sentence construction. After a couple of days, he took out The Merchant of Venice, read it out loud explaining it as he went, and I was mesmerized. Teachers aren't that free anymore. Times tables were hard for me to memorize, but I did it, and I sure hope kids are learning them today. How could you get by without them?

Gail, northern California said...

I had tea the other day with a former high school teacher. This was obviously several years ago but she told me that when she taught school in the nearby small rural town of Laytonville she taught her students how to fill out an order, calculate the tax,
write a check or buy a money order for the purchase. Along with other such everyday Items as balancing a checkbook or doubling a recipe, she also stressed the importance of thank you notes. Yes, thank you notes--- a thank you describing what was received, how you plan to use it, and how to address the envelope. It seems if you hadn't learned your times tables in her class, at least you could function in everyday life.

Gwil W said...

I remember that my school exercise books had the multiplication tables printed on the back cover. Obviously there were children who never looked at the back cover, in fact could hardly write their names on the front cover. I felt very sorry for them, but then I discovered they had other talents, mostly they were of a practical nature and I admired the for that. I'm 70 and my whole I've never been able to knock a nail in straight. I once made a teapot stand. That was my limit in woodwork. I was useless and clumsy and I knew it. We are all different but the educators didn't seem seem to realize that simple fact and gave some of the slider pupils a terrible time.

Gwil W said...

slower pupils

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thank you everyone for contributing to the argument.
And thank you Gwil for remindingme of those red exercise books that you could get which had the times tables printed on the back cover. I had completely forgotten about them.

honey said...

I think children need to be taught the multiplication tables and number facts . How else can you figure things out like I have 9 apples and need 12 to bake so how many do I need to buy? I taught 31 years grades K thru 3. I would hate to have to stand in line and count on my fingers. I love your posts.

tweetart said...

I remember learning my times table in primary school we used to recite them every morning after the teacher took the register and in one way or another I think you subconsciously use them every single day, I’ve never heard the term number bonds but I know what you mean...maths was my worst subject but I adored English.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thank you to Honey and Tweetart - don't think you have commented before, so welcome to you.

Chris Elliot said...

The most useful math skill I learned was to estimate - round up or down - as I can now figure out in my head what my shopping or restaurant bill will be before it actually arrives!

Iris said...

I have always thought that the most important thing that school has taught me, is to be able to read and write. Every other subject, as you have said, has importance if you enter a particular field. Math has never been my strongest subject. My husband totally stumped me one day by first asking me for the answer to 7x8. I didn't know (shame!) and he told me the answer. Then he asked me for 8x7 and I didn't know either (funny double shame!). It ended with us laughing until tears were rolling down our cheeks. Duh!!!!!!!

kt said...

I find the times tables very useful for...relaxing my mind to try to get to sleep at night! Starting at 1x1=1, right up to 12x12=144. Almost always get to sleep before completing all of them. But if I can't get to sleep by then I try to list all the prime numbers from 1 to 100 (a prime number can only be divided by one and itself). So all that "useless" math has some use after all.

thelma said...

There were things I loved about school, yes I learnt my tables (and have been grateful ever since) and quick calculations come easy. Do children learn poems by heart now I wonder? I remember spelling bees, 10 words to be learnt correctly every week. My grandchildren are all readers, I remember Tom the eldest as a toddler watching tv and then using the Radio Times to find his programmes he wasn't even two years old. That taught me another lesson, the need to learn comes from the pupil, the teacher is only a necessary ancillary to guide them along the way.

Polly said...

My grandson has to endure Spanish lessons. Like most of the pupils in the class he has no interest in the subject, therefore they get frustrated and unruly.

Toffeeapple said...

I knew the tune of the times tables but could never remember the words!