In my year 7 classes at the start of every year, it's a sad truth that not all of them know their times tables off by heart. By not having this basic building block, problem-solving later on in maths is always going to be light on solving and big on problems.
Rather than hoping the problem would go away, I set out to fix it.
There is a place for repetitive practice in the maths classroom (so long as it's engaging...see here) and, when combined with other methods too, mastery of times tables is well suited to practising and practising.
In my mixed-ability year 7 classes, I knew some of my pupils already had rapid times table recall at the start of the year while others could take anywhere up to 15 seconds per question. So I started looking for a way for pupils to enjoy drilling their times tables every day. That posed a challenge - how to make it interesting and fun for all of them, irrespective of their current speed.
I started to come up with a basic format:
The Plan was not sounding particularly fun until I was inspired by a colleague. Mazzle Dazzle, as I call her, used to go round calling everyone a 'rockstar' for a job well done. When she called me a rockstar one day, I was glowing inside for hours afterwards. Somehow it felt like more of an accolade than a compliment. And that's how I wanted my pupils to feel.
It turned out, the missing ingredients of fun were music and rewards. I realised pupils wanted to hear a bit of music in their lessons and be rewarded with a status or title, so I came up with the idea of pupils being known as 'time tables rockstars'. Times tables rockstars, much like their musical counterparts, needed daily practice to get to the top and this analogy got me some early buy-in with the pupils. Over time, the other thing they started to share with real rock icons, was the excitement of performing well. Pupils enjoyed the feeling of getting faster and the self-adulation that began entering their consciousness. For some of them, they finally started feeling 'worthy' in the maths classroom. And so I continued to build around the rockstar analogy to propel and embed their excitement further.
It needed a name (Times Tables Rock Stars) and so did they; they were given a made-up rock name (like Iggy Winter, Zander Wells or Oscar Hendrix), which itself created excitement, and then posters started appearing around school with their alter-ego's name. I built a website to display their weekly chart positions and created a three-tier status for them to work towards:
In time, some of them got so quick at their times tables that I had to create a new status, Rock Hero, for those answering in under one second!
If operated as intended - a regime of daily practice for 20 school weeks - then pupils will become more confident and more successful in maths. With three consecutive year 7 cohorts at King Solomon Academy, who completed the full course, all had significant success. Above 90% of all pupils were Rock Stars or better by the end, compared to only 25% before the start. More than that, when they got to year 8, they were flying through content because they weren't held back by poor times tables recall.
Since 2013, thousands of primary, secondary, special, hospital, alternative provision and all-through schools have adopted TT Rock Stars and their pupils too are enjoying a faster times tables recall speed and more confidence in maths.