Make times-tables fun with fingers!

Students often ask me is ‘Why is maths so important?’ ‘Why do we have to study maths every day?’ They often find it a hard subject, so I’m going to show you a neat way to multiply numbers using your fingers. This really appeals to children (well, to everyone, actually!). And it works for the times-tables from 6 to 9.

The bad old days!

I often think back to my schooldays and try to remember what I actually learned. The maths lessons I did at school are hazy, to say the least. One of the main reasons is that our teachers didn’t engage us, didn’t make the lessons memorable at all. It was all talk and chalk. The teachers stood there writing masses of equations on the board, and we just copied down what they wrote. We even had things called ‘logarithm books’. I didn’t know what they were for then, and I’m still not sure now! (Something to do with making complex calculations easier, but, as I struggled with simple calculations, not much help to me!) Those books looked like some type of secret code, and we could never see any real-world applications. In fact, as a punishment, we sometimes had to copy out pages of logarithms. As you can imagine, this just added to the negative feelings a lot of us had about maths.

A welcome change

These days teaching has changed, thank God! Maths is now a lot more creative and hands-on. As I mentioned in the origami post, maths can be introduced in an engaging way, even to the youngest of learners. It really is a question of getting students interested.

So when students tell me they’re going to be professional football players, I tell them about the maths research done in the University of Amsterdam. The Association for Psychological Science found that during during World Cup penalty shoot-outs the goalkeeper for the team that’s losing is twice as likely to dive to the right! So maths, or in this case, statistics, could be helpful in winning the World Cup. In case you’re interested, more details here:

When my students tell me that they want to design computer games, they’re often shocked by the realisation that they’ll need knowledge of maths too.

So all the time I try to engage the students with short stories or ‘factoids’, as Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory calls them. These small pieces of trivial but interesting information are especially useful. They’re bite-sized pieces of information that children and teenagers can understand.

Have fun with maths!

Ways of learning multiplication are quite easy to ‘sell’ to the students, as they all know that it’s on the syllabus. There are lots of ways to multiply numbers using your fingers, though I think that this is by far the easiest. I’m including this mainly for teachers who have been on my Dramatising Storytelling workshop. (I talk about the history of numbers and finish by showing the class how to do multiplication on your fingers. Some of you have written to me saying you couldn’t remember how to do it, so this is for you). Generally, primary students don’t have so many problems with the multiplication of numbers between 2 and 5, and can easily see patterns in the numbers. The same goes for the ten-times table. However, from 6–9 it’s a lot more complicated. This is one of those activities that students go home and show their parents – there’s something quite magical about it. Have fun!


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