Thursday, November 8, 2012

Curriculum Review: Times Tales

Rote memorization is not fun for anyone.  Many children despise it.  Some hate it and others are just no good at it.  So what have generations of despairing teachers and parents done?  Turn to mnemonic devices.  Little trick images or phrases to help students remember the unmemorable.

I cannot read music and have no musical talent whatsoever.  I can actually have several preschool parents attest to having witnessed my inexplicable inability to clap to the beat of the easiest of preschooler tunes.  (Pathetic and sad yes, but hopefully I have gifts in other areas.  I would not however, suggest, you ask me to sing either.)  I can however tell you the notes on a scale (Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge and FACE) thanks to Mrs. Miller, my second grade teacher.  She employed the ever popular mnemonic device.

The beauty, simplicity and ease of a mnemonic device is clear.  So why on Earth has it taken so long for someone to come up with the ingenious idea of appling mnemonics to the multiplication tables?  Thank goodness Jennie Von Eggers did!  We are ever so grateful that we have discovered Times Tales.

I remember (and not too fondly) having spent countless hours each evening drilling my daughter on her multiplication tables when she was in 3rd grade.  She would master one table, take the quiz at school and then move on to the next one.  Each grueling step moved us closer to our goal, mastery through the nines.  When we finally got there, we discovered that she was losing the early tables which she had learned due to lack of practice.  Grr!  More drilling!

So alas, I was not looking forward to beginning the same drudgery with my son now that it is time for him to learn his multiplication tables.  I knew that this was going to be excruciating for him, since rote memorization is just about the worst task I could ask of him given the way he learns and processes information.  Oh joy, were we in for a treat then! 

We were working on the 2s, 3s, 4s, and 5s.  We had been drilling these almost daily for months, to no avail.  He could get the correct answers by calculating them.  He did not have them memorized.  So we kept on drilling.  I saw another mom post on Facebook about Times Tales and how amazing they were for her son.  Huh?  Times Tales???  What in the heck is that?

Oh, only an answer to prayers.

Times Tales has created characters that represent each number and then incorporated them into an extremely brief (2 sentence on average) “story” that illustrates the answer to the multiplication problem.  Since it was less than $20 on Amazon, I figured I might as well give it a shot.  

In less than 15 minutes and reviewing the characters and stories three to four times, my son knew the 3s and 4s times tables, COLD.  And the angels began to sing ... Quite literally, I had tears in my eyes.  We had found what worked for him.

Pros:  Times Tales has simple stories that are “catchy” for kids.  They are easy to recall.  Once the child can recall the story, the instruction manual has flash cards that contain the number characters in a multiplication equation.  After the child has mastered this, there are traditional numerical flash cards.  The program includes character number practice tests as well as numerical ones.  There are also crosswords and cube templates that you can cut out for a dice game.  
Once the child has mastered multiplication, there are two types of division flashcards.  The character-based division flashcards ask, “What is missing?”  Once the child has this part learned, then there are traditional numerical division flashcards too.

Cons:  Why, oh why, did they not create stories for all of the times tables???  Apparently the Times Tales creators felt that most kids can easily learn the 2s and 5s on their own.  While they may certainly be easier tables than others, we sure could have benefited from having stories covering the 2s and 5s.  

Since Times Tales did not have any stories for the 5s and we had a need for them, I used a computer image of a unicycle and turned it into a “5” to create a few stories for my son.

Bottom line:  This is one purchase that was worth every single penny I paid.  It worked beautifully.  My son felt such pride in being able to quickly and painlessly learn his multiplication tables.  I could not possibly give a higher endorsement of this product.  We love it!