Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Learning Times Tables

Learning Times Tables
I Hate Math
8.5" x 11"
Last night, I sat with my youngest grandson at the island counter in the kitchen, as we worked on homework. He wasn't in a good mood and didn't want to do it. Not even the promise of a chocolate soda or time to play a computer game helped. but, I had him pick out where he wanted to work and we set up a place to work while his mother cooked supper.
I added paper and pencil for myself, and sat at the counter with him, intending to draw something or look up a picture of a person that I needed for a drawing. I remember that homework was a lot easier to do, if I had a friendly person with me, in case I needed help. Or, to just know that someone else was working with me. I always remembered any comments later, and that helped me if I needed that information in order to answer a question. I could hear the person telling me what they had said, even years later.
He needs to learn his multiplication tables so that he can respond to the teacher, fast. He is somewhat of a perfectionist, and takes his time to do things right, which doesn't make for very speedy answers, usually. Last year, the teacher told us to use flashcards to learn the mulitiplication tables. To me, that is too random. Mulitiplication is something that needs to be in order, so that you can recall that chart, and just see it when it is needed, then go down that chart in your mind to find the answer. Flash cards, to me, are a game that is okay to reinforce, but you probably couldn't learn those basic answers with them.
We had stacks of dictionaries, notebook paper, pencils and a sharpener, his books, my books spread out on the counter, while his mother had to move to the counter beside the stove to work. We sat on stools and went to work.
I gave him some notebook paper, and took a couple of sheets for myself. There is a chart of the mulitiplilcation tables inside a planner that the school gave the students. And, I had one in an old-fashioned composition book that I have had for years. So, this gave something to go by. He said that his teacher wanted him to write his mulitiplication table like the chart.
Previously, I showed him the way that we used to write it, in columns. He did it easily, then, and used the chart to help him when he needed to check an answer.
As he worked on the table style, I thought, "I don't remember all of these, either. I'll work along with him, and make my own chart. Wouldn't hurt to practice a little." So, I made my own chart. He finished before I did, and I had to go to the, what I call the "cheat sheet", to finish my answers. We moved on to Language Arts and writing definitions in the workbook they have been using in school.
I started laughing as we worked on those mulitiplication tables. This was so different from when I had to learn those difficult numbers.
I guess my real dislike for math started in first grade. I had been sick for a few days and, when I came back to school, the teacher (who had also taught my father) insisted that I stay in class while everyone else went to lunch to finish up papers that I had missed. My mother expected me to come home at lunch time and right after school. I started crying when the teacher wouldn't let me leave. She tried to get me to stop and do my work, but I just cried more. I was sure that I would get a spanking and yelled at if I didn't go home on time.
Now, you have to understand that I was only 5 years old, and I lived about 1/2 block from school. And this teacher was not the most cheerful or sweet person that I ever knew. I thought that she was old, grouchy, and reminded me of a bulldog.
Actually, I had started to school the year before at age 4, when my friends, who were older started to school. I could do what they could do. But, I got mad at this teacher, one day, when she wouldn't let me play on the third floor of the fire escape. I went up there, anyway, and no one could get me to come down. After the class went back to the room after recess, I decided that being out there by myself was no fun, so I drug myself back into the room, pouting, but a little afraid that I would get a paddling. I sat down, got out my cigar box of crayons, quietly, and waited.
The teacher called my name, and before she could say anything, I threw my cigar box on the floor and went home. I vowed never to go to school again. I spent that year, looking at the school, where all my friends were. The next year, when I was 5, my father made me go back.
So, this particular day, when the teacher was trying to make me do my work instead of going to lunch, I was crying and wouldn't stop. I was sure that if I cried enough, she would give up and let me go home. Instead, she picked up the arithmetic book and hit me on the head with it.
I stopped my loud crying. I sat down, sobbing, at the table and did the papers. When I gave them to her, she smiled. But, I have avoided math ever since.
When I told my father he simply said, "She did the same thing to me!" I was so surprised that he didn't go to school and yell at her, or that my mother would yell at her because I hadn't come home for lunch.
By third grade, a kinder, but stern, teacher insisted that I needed to learn my times tables. My mind wandered to things I was interested in. And, I was even more shy after having surgery on my face at the beginning of school that year. I thought I had a horrible, ugly scar and was ruined for life. I spent a lot of time trying to pull my hair over that side of my face, like Veronica Lake, so that no one could see that scar. So, my mother would braid my hair. After recess, the braids fell loose anyway. I would even pull the braids across my scar and hold the ends of the braids in my teeth, so I could write. We couldn't have gum, so I chewed on my braids. But, the real purpose was to hide my face.
I wasn't making much progress with learning mulitiplication tables. It wasn't something that I could get excited about doing, or even felt that I needed to do. So, my parents were told that I must learn those multiplication tables and they needed to make me do it. So, each evening, my mother made me sit at the desk in the living room and work on writing those times tables. I would get so far, then I would start drawing. I dawdled, I squirmed, I looked out the window, I played with the cat as she wandered by, and I dreamed. Anything but writing those dreaded numbers.
When Daddy came home from the store for supper, I was still avoiding doing the work. They tried bribing, they tried being nice, they begged, they pleaded, they yelled, they threatened, they ignored me, then would come back and fuss at me some more.
"You are going to sit there until you do all those times tables!" Daddy fussed. His face grew red as his blood pressure rose and his patience wore away. Mama pursed her lips.
The more they insisted, the more I balked and the harder it seemed to do those numbers. I couldn't make myself do it.
Mama stood on one side of me, with the hairbrush, threatening to spank me if I didn't get busy. We didn't have a paddle for spanking at home, like they had at school. But Mama could swing a mean hairbrush. Soft bristles in a hair brush may sound like it wouldn't hurt, but Mama had a hairbrush with metal teeth in it. She would hit with the wooden, paddle part of the brush, but, as she spanked, the brush sometimes twisted and those little metal teeth stung. Even with that hairbrush hanging over me, and Mama standing there, resolved that I was going to learn those times tables, I still couldn't make myself write the numbers.
Daddy stood on the other side of the desk, determined that I was going to do my work. His spanking implements were the hammer handle, and he threatened with a belt, though he never used it. But, the hammer handle was scarey. While he made sure that I didn't leave the desk, he held the hammer in one hand and the belt in the other, letting it lie on the desk beside me.
I still just sat there, hating math, teachers, and school. I cried in frustration and anger.
"I don't want to," I whined. "It's too hard. I can't do this. That teacher is mean!"
It didn't work. I still had to sit there.
Finally, I picked up the pencil and angrily started writing, "1 x 1 =1." We only had to learn to the 10s. Then, everyone left me alone. But it took all year, of these nightly sessions, of making me write those times tables, with Mama on one side, and Daddy on the other. I'll bet that they were growing to hate the times tables too, by the time that year was over! And I was so glad when summer came and I got to skip 4th grade.
In school, we not only had to write the numbers, but we had to recite them together. Over and over. Today, many children seem to have some trouble with repitition. Once they have done something, they don't want to have to do it again, and they surely don't want to go over and over the same thing, day after day. Sometimes, repitition is necessary.
I'm glad that my children and grandchildren are not like I was!
By high school, some of our math classes were taught by coaches and we could easily get them off topic by talking about sports. We spent a lot of algebra class, with the boys talking football plays with the coach, or working silently at our desks, and playing football on paper instead of doing problems. I can't recall exactly how we played it, but we drew lines on the paper to represent lines on the field, then used a pencil to "kick off", make gains on the "field", and "touchdowns". It certainly wasn't math, though. We did have work to do, at times. The teacher would assign problems, and either someone who understood math, would do them, and we would share the answers, or, often, the answers were in the back of the book.
Plane geometry was easier for me. I could see something there. Algebra seemed like a game that the person giving problems knows the answer to. I thought that they should just go on and tell the answer instead of making people guess. I could imagine house plans, or pies with Geometry.
I didn't have to take math in college, but, when I took chemistry...well, that's another story.
I know that my grandson will learn these time tables much faster and easier than I did. Hopefully, he will remember a pleasant time with Grandma, doing homework in the kitchen, and he will be eager to learn more.

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