Times Tables Rock Stars by @Mroberts90Matt

It’s been a few years now that a mandatory times tables assessment as been banded about. Snap general elections, changes in Education Secretaries and basically the fact that other more important things had to be sorted meant that this took a while to come into force. However, the time has come and we have an answer. From the 2019-2020 academic year, every Year 4 child across the country will undertake a mandatory, online assessment of their times tables.​​​​​​ Whether this is required or not is another debate – however I am personally pleased with the way in which the format and timing of the assessment was decided – namely through an open online consultation for education professionals. It’s a shame that just under a thousand teachers responded (if we want decision-makers in education to listen to teaching staff then we need to take the chance to have our voice heard) but it is still a positive step I feel.

One thing that this announcement has done for me as a new Maths Coordinator is take action – I suppose if that’s the case for others then the new times tables assessment may already be successful?…

Anyway, as a school we decided to improve our mastery of our children’s times tables by investing in Times Tables Rock Stars. And was it worth every penny! What I will aim to do here is explain how we have trialled this programme in my Year 6 class, how the school is buzzing about it and the impact we are already seeing from our two-prong approach:

Paper Challenges

One feature of TTRS is the worksheet challenges they offer. In the past our school would do times tables mental starters every now and then, followed by a main times tables challenge at the end of the week. These would take the form of times tables grids with randomised numbers. Older year groups would take on a big grid and the younger year groups some smaller ones. However, we wanted to integrate times tables challenges more throughout the week and drive more purpose into the challenges. Times Tables Rock Stars does this very effectively with a number of banks of challenges. Teachers can personalise these schedules of challenges to certain times tables, whether they do 3, 4 or 5 challenges a week and whether they include division.

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All challenges within these banks give the children three minutes to complete sixty questions. The children can then add up their scores and time over the entire week of challenges. This is where the magic really begins to happen…

There is a place on the website where you can fairly easily input this data onto the website. When each child’s score is put into the week (we do this on a Friday) the children can see their individual rock speed. They take great delight in trying to reach our target speed and trying to be the best class in the school (more on that in a minute). You can then see your classes progress on the website also:

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(Ignore week 5 – we have not yet added our fastest group’s time to the class average)

What we have done with this as a school is created a Weekly Times Tables Trophy and the class that does the best with their target speed wins this. This is calculated by the number of children who reach the target time for that class divided by the number of children. Of course, the target time is differentiated by year group and class as can be seen here:

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We have done this twice now and something very interesting has happened. Because the school challenge is far more fair as each class teacher is using their professional judgement to focus their times table challenges on what their class needs and the target speed is differentiated, the award is much more open. And who doesn’t love filling in a quick times tables challenge whilst listening to Living On a Prayer or We Built This City on Rock and Roll? 😉

However, this is not even the most exciting part of using Times Tables Rock Stars…

Online Challenges

On the website there are four engaging and exciting modes to play:

Festival – This mode allows all children across the world to play one minute challenges against each other with random times tables up to 12×12. This is the default mode that appears but must be used with care for younger children as it does include all times tables.
Studio – This is a single player mode that again includes all 12x tables. However, this is a particularly important mode. It allows you (once you’ve completed a minimum of 10 games) to set an online rock speed which you can compete against others in your school on a leaderboard to get the best rock speed. This really brings in a competitive edge to the online version and our children love looking at our class leaderboard in our room to see who’s moved up! You can even compare average rock speeds with other local schools! A must-use method!
Garage – Another vital mode. This is a single player mode where the children receive 10 coins for each correct answer (whereas the other modes reward a correct answer with only once coin). This encourages more children to try this mode which is important as it is the main mode where the teacher can set the times tables questioned. There are even 5 groups that you can put the children in and differentiate the questions that they will receive. This is what I would encourage most younger year groups to use before they have a firmer grasp on all times tables.
Rock Arena – Basically the same as the Garage but it is a multiplayer version for just the children in your class to compete against each other (with their differentiated tables). A good mode to use if you’re going online as a class.

We encourage our children across school to go on the website at home and we have purchased the app add-on which allows them to access it on our school iPads and most devices at home. We incentivise it using ‘Most Improved’ awards and ‘Highest Earner’ awards which are posted in each classroom and can be easily downloaded off the resource-rich website.

Impact

One half-term is usually too soon to note significant impacts on times table progress. However, two pieces of evidence seem to indicate with my two Year 6 groups that this two prong approach using Times Tables Rock Stars is already making a difference.

First, the percentage calculated in both our higher ability and lower ability maths sets has steadily increased each week. This is not a generalisation. I have recorded the percentage each week and (apart from one week right at the start for both groups) each group’s percentage of children reaching their target speed has increased steadily! Evidence that the paper challenges have had an impact in the Year 6 trial!

Secondly, within Year 6 there is a difference between the two classes. One class have a 0.75 quicker average rock speed than the other. This is might not sound like a lot but it is significant. Interestingly this gap has slightly increased over time. What is the difference between the two? The class with more minutes played online on Times Tables Rock Stars are the class with the fastest average speed which has steadily gained a faster speed than the other.

I would encourage all schools to seriously take this programme on. Not only will it help prepare their current Year 2s and future children for the new times tables assessments (which by the way will be typed online, which Times Tables Rock Stars will also prepare them for) but it will help the children gain a quicker ability on the recall of their times tables. Also, it is very affordably priced in a world where schools have to make more and more cuts.

Right – off I go to try and overtake that pesky Year 6 who has once again beaten my rock speed – this time with a 0.77 answers per second!

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