Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Review of Times Tales by Trigger Memory Systems

I remember being in 3rd grade and learning the times tables. The teacher had been assigning a table a week and for some reason I had gotten behind. This was normally not my nature, but I think the issue was that I saw no point in rote memorization of times tables. I don't recall understanding the concept, just being told to memorize them. Around the time of my lagging behind, quarterly report cards came out and the teacher mentioned to my parents that I was behind. I remember being disappointed in myself, but it wasn't until a fellow classmate completed all 12 tables, while I remained on the 4s, that I was spurred into action. I may not have understood the math concept, but competitiveness gave me the proper motivation to learn my 4-12 tables in ONE evening.

When it came time to teach my own children multiplication, I made sure they understood the concept, could skip count and saw usefulness of knowing the information. When I became successful in this goal, I thought the actual memorization would either be automatic through use or be an easy task. After all, I was able to memorize most in one evening, without having any understanding. Sadly, I was very wrong in my expectations.

My daughter simply refused to memorize the tables. She fully understood the concepts but didn't want to be bogged down with the actual memorization, a character trait that remains true today across subjects. There came a point when her lack of automacity slowed her math work down so much that I eventually gave her a table to look up the simple multiplication answers so she could move on to more difficult concepts. My son learned to skip count and then held on to that method for dear life. Ability to skip count shows understanding of the concept, but it can be cumbersome if that's the only way you know how to get the answers. For each times table, he would start at the very beginning and skip count his way up, using fingers to keep track. I tried to get him to memorize the tables, but he didn't seem able.

Thankfully, Trigger Memory Systems has thought of creative way to help children quickly learn the times tables.

Times Tales is an approach to learning multiplication that has nothing to do with math. Yes, you read that correctly. Times Tales is described as "a creative, innovative, mnemonic-based program that makes it fun and easy to memorize the multiplication facts". Using mnemonics, children can learn difficult times tables through easy to recall stories and associations. Imagination is an important memory tool and engages parts of the brain not associated with rote memorization. Mnemonic methods are particularly important for children with learning challenges, e.g. ADD or dyslexia, and most children will simply find this effective method plain fun. If you'd like to read more about how this method works, read the first two questions on Trigger Memory Systems' FAQ page as well as the article linked there.

In Times Tales, each factor (the numbers being multiplied) is represented by an easy to remember character associated with the number. These characters are used in short stories integrating the product (the answer) both verbally and visually. For example, the number 8 is represented by Mrs. Snowman, who has the shape of the number. Below you will find an example for 9 x 9, with the number 9 represented by a treehouse.

Once the story is introduced, the wording is removed for more practice.

Here is a the picture cue for 9 (treehouse) x 3 (butterfly) = 27 (quarter and 2 pennies in the treasure box):

After the initial session, flash cards, games and quizzes are provided to further cement the stories in memory.

It all sounds good in theory, but does it work? My short answer is,

"YES! Buy this product if your child is struggling with multiplication tables."

I first discovered Times Tales about four years ago when I purchased it for my daughter, who was 8 at the time. The original version covered only the upper half of the 6, 7, 8, and 9 tables, since these are the most difficult for children to learn. Tables with the factors of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 10 were not included in the original version. When I received my updated version for this review, I was impressed with the improvements. Not only is the product as a whole more visually appealing, the quality is better as well. Furthermore, I was pleased to see that the 3 and 4 times tables have been added.

At age 8, my daughter was well ahead in math concepts but struggled with the rote memorization of the times tables. Since she has a strong language arts lean, I thought learning math through stories might be appealing to her. True to its claim, my daughter learned the upper times tables in an hour using Times Tales. I was truly shocked at how quickly the program worked. While I did very little review with my daughter, she recently admitted that she still uses some of the stories - 4 years later!

Times Tales has also been successful with my 9-year-old dyslexic son. This child has no problem remembering every single complicated name of the Lego Bionicle characters, but 6 x 8 escapes him without skip counting. Associative learning has been a necessary tool in his bag of tricks for learning. Within a half hour, he was able to tell me every single times table covered in the program by looking at the text-free picture. After going through the pictures twice, I started to verbally quiz him on the tables. He was able to answer me without his routine skip counting and quicker than normal. With a little more review, I know this program will improve the speed at which he does his math work.

I am really pleased with the results of Times Tales. While it is important that your child understand the concept of multiplication, sometimes other techniques are needed to improve automaticity. Engaging the imagination has always been a way to make learning more fun. With Times Tales, learning and math work become more efficient too.

You can purchase Times Tales for $29.95 at the Trigger Memory Systems website. The program includes:

2 Part Story Flipchart
Trigger Memory & Regular Flashcards (multiplication & division)
Roll 'Em Cube Game
Easy Instruction Manual
Memory Story Discussion Guide
Various Tests & Challenges.

If you'd like to test out the program, or if you own the original, you can purchase the new Supplement that covers just the upper 3's and 4's for $12.95.

Be sure to check out the other great products sold by Trigger Memory Systems.

If you'd like to read what others thought of Times Tales, visit the Official TOS Homeschool Crew's Official Blog.

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