Today is the day when I tackle one of the two most common problems students face when recalling the times tables and how to overcome the molehill that some students view as THE IMMOVABLE MOUNTAIN! (I would just like to preface this post by stating that the information I’m providing is general in nature and does not specifically speak to those children with learning disabilities or those with underlying problems that result in major behavioural issues. This information has been gleaned over many years of teaching students; typically from Years 4-9, as well as material from research papers).
So, the first issue many teachers face when tackling the times tables in class is the fact that some students are just “bored” or disengaged. And the amount of times I would hear students using this excuse to cover underlying issues was absolutely astounding! Little did I know in my initial years as a full-time upper primary teacher that those underlying issues revolved around a deep chasm. This chasm seems to claim any motivation a student has toward learning due to the lack of conceptual understanding and inability to make connections to prior learning. The bridges required to close these gaps will be covered in a future post, however, today I will be focusing on ways to engage and motivate students and the science behind it!
The Science behind Engagement and Happiness:
Have you heard of the quartet of happiness? A lot of people strive for happiness like it is the destination, however, science tells us that we have access to happiness on a daily basis! We have naturally occurring chemicals in our body that produce “happiness” called: dopamine, endorphins, oxytocin and serotonin. So how can we use this to our advantage in the classroom, specifically engaging students in times tables recollection? Well, let’s first address the fact that we are often faced with a wall of negativity or “boredom” from students in regard to the times tables and if the goal is to knock this wall down and replace it with positivity and self-confidence, then we CAN use a variety of tools (mentioned below) to release the chemicals mentioned above. So, let’s take a look at dopamine and endorphins, and how we can create an environment that promotes the natural release of these chemicals within our body.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres. When this increases, we have more energy, focus and motivation. As teachers, we can create an environment that promotes the natural release of dopamine in the body by…
- creating something or completing a small task. If this task matters to us, even if it is a small achievement, then dopamine is released as a reward! We can divide BIG goals into smaller ones, thus promoting the release of dopamine more regularly when these small goals are achieved! Think about the times you’ve written a list, checked it off and the feeling you experienced when these goals were met. It felt pretty good didn’t it!? Why not try this in your classroom? Take the time before completing a times tables task to allow your students to write down a SPECIFIC and ACHIEVABLE goal for THAT LESSON…NOT for the end of the year! It may be that the student would like to recall the 2 times tables in less than 50 seconds! Then allow your class time in that lesson for them to achieve their goal and celebrate success with them!
- listening to pleasant music whilst students are goal setting and completing times tables activities. Music is a powerful tool that can connect people to a “happy” or “sad” moment, so choose an upbeat tune or a song that students love to sing along to when recalling the times tables!
The next hormone is called endorphins. These work as a natural analgesic for the body in order to ease pain and they make you feel calm and happy! When we naturally release endorphins we feel happy, euphoric and determined. As teachers, we can create an environment that promotes the natural release of endorphins in the body by…
- laughing! Telling a funny joke (to break the ice) or introducing a specific character that puts a smile on the faces of children, releases endorphins within the body. Why not start the lesson with an entertaining character that makes the students laugh? I particularly love Pugsy and know he puts a smile on the faces of my children!
- exercising! One of my favourite activities when recalling the times tables is a game called ‘Steal that Number!’ It is very much like ‘Rob the Nest,’ however, teams are collecting times tables questions and answers to match. So, you will need to have double the amount of questions to answers (you can attach or write these on bean bags). Some of you may have also played ‘Tables Soccer’ or similar games that incorporate recollection of the times tables! I would love to know about these games in the comments below!
Who knew learning could be so FUN and that students could feel so HAPPY! In the following post, I will cover the science behind oxytocin and serotonin, as well as incorporating Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences when learning the times tables.