Friday, January 15, 2010


Working with the 4th graders last week, the objective was just to develop multiplication facts, as they are struggling with the multi-digit multiplication.

I'm a big believer in automacity vs strict memorization, as I believe it leads to fluency and solid pre-algebraic thinking, as well as deepening operation understanding. The lesson was pretty simple, but a good place to start.

Objective: TLW see connections between adjacent multiplication facts, and use those connections to help computation.

Materials: unifix cubes, graph paper with a 5x5 structure (link goes to a 2 page pdf graph paper, so it can be printed both sides easily), blank multiplication chart.

Cubes 25-30 min
Start out with a small set of cubes, such as two stacks of three cubes. What multiplication problem is this? (You might choose if you're going to make an issue of order or not. To me, this is 2 of 3, making it 2x3.) This is 2x3 and 2x3 is 6. We're going to pass the cubes around our group.

When you have the cubes, each person can either add a cube to each stack, or add a stack of the same height. Then you say the new multiplication and what the answer is. I add a cube to each stack and say it is 2x4, which is 8.

As the stacks went around, I saw students slowly gaining an idea of figuring out the next problem by adding on to what they knew before. It took a little bit to get the idea of what multiplication computation it was, but they got the idea of what moves were allowable immediately. Soon, several of the students were adding to get the next fact.

We restarted with 3 stacks of 1. The students were much more fluid. There was a bit of an issue with the cubes being distracting with them. If I had thought about working with students who hadn't used the cubes much, I would have given them time to play first, setting up multiplication problems of their choice.

Graph Paper 15 min
The next phase of the lesson was to move to graph paper. We drew a 2x3 rectangle, and the students were comfortable with thinking about that as 2x3. We did one together, where the group decided which side to add squares to. 2x4, 2x5, 3x5, ...

Then each student got their own graph paper and started building a chain of rectangles, with the new dimensions filled in and the result. I saw several students using the adding strategy. One student didn't get the idea of what the connection was, and just drew rectangles and filled in the area. But maybe that was what she needed to attend to.

Multiplication Chart 5-10min
As it was time for students to go, we summarized by looking at a multiplication chart. Filled in a fact they agreed on, 6x5. I led them through how to use that to go on, by adding to get to 6x6 or 7x5. They went back to class with their own chart and a page of graph paper. As I saw them working on the charts in their free time, some were using patterns as they had seen them before, some were using them for the first time, and one student asked for how that worked. A couple of examples got her started.

The next week: The week after this I tried to get the students to help me develop a game. A couple of them found it less than engaging, but Mrs. B mentioned that all the students were antsy. Day before a long weekend? Cabin fever? The game is designed to become obsolete, but I don't think that's the issue. I picked it because I've wanted to work this out, and the other thing they've been working on in class is area and perimeter of compund rectangular shapes.

Break Up (In development)

Two players or teams.
5-structure graph paper, pen, optional dice.

Game play: Determine the size of a starting rectangle. This can be done through choice, each team choosing a side length, or rolling three dice, or rolling four dice, or rolling 2 dice plus 10. If dice rolling, each team should roll one side.

On your team's turn, you either divide a rectangle, or calculate an area, or do both. Your team gets a point whenever an area is filled in. After all the areas are filled in, the team's whose turn it is next gets to try to find the total area. To emphasize using known facts, you can only fill in a rectangle if you know the area as a fact.

Examples: you determine a 12x15 rectangle. The first time divides the 12 into 10 and 2, and fills in 10x15=150. The second team divides 15 into 10 and 5, and fills in 2x10=20. The first team fills in 2x5=10. The second team finds the total, 150+20+10 and gets 210. So 12x15=180.

You determine a 9x12 rectangle. The first team sections off a 6x9, and doesn't know that as a fact. (There was one student who loved dividing in half.) The second team split off 5x9 and filled in 45. The first team filled in 1x9. The second team filled in 6x6 as 36. The first team (fudging a bit) figured 3x6 with 12+6. The second team mis-added 45+9+36+18 (hard sum!) and the other team got 108.

Notes: I thought the game would be better as a cooperative game, but the kids wanted to try it with points. They thought about scoring the area (as I have) but that gives the first team too big an advantage. They looked forward to scoring points, but didn't seem to care much about winning. They thought maybe you should keep track of points across multiple games. It did strongly encourage mental computation.
There's not much strategy to this game. It's about tic-tac-toe level that way. I could see this turning into kids designing their own board of compounded rectangles, that might be interesting. But it definitely encourages relational thinking for multiplication facts, which is worthwhile. If anyone has ideas for improving the gameplay, I'd love to hear them.

Sue VanHattum, from Math Mama Writes, was reminded of a game called Raging Rectangles from a North Carolina instructional resource packet. See the comments for details.


  1. Your game reminds me of Raging Rectangles, which I found on the NC math curriculum site. (It has always been hard to find the material there. I think they mean it to be just for their teachers, and somewhat purposely bury it deep. But it's worth digging. They have great stuff. I think it's called week by week essentials. But I can't find it there now.)

    Raging Rectangles use dice to determine how big an area they can color in. I'll send it to you by email.

  2. Thanks, Sue.
    I found the page with the resource:
    It's the fourth grade Blackline Masters pp. 1-48 (It's page 28).

    I'll add a link in the post to the game sheet you sent.