Sunday, 19 February 2012

Download a free Time Tables Challenge tool

My three boys have all been through a primary school (one is still there) that expects kids to learn their multiplication tables at home.

One day the school sent home a nice printed page that had all the sums set out in a grid. Each table had its own column and the sums in each column were in what looked like a random order. It looked a bit like this:

Click to zoom
My son sat down with it and carefully filled in as many boxes as he could. We checked it (he got some of them wrong, but not many) and continued to get him to fill in the sheets whenever one came home in his bag.

He got better and better, of course, but there was a problem. I noticed that the sheets were always the same; the sums always appeared in the same order. When presented with the sums in a different order, he wasn't as quick or as accurate.

I learned from the school that whenever they wanted a new sheet a teacher had to sit at the PC and make one manually. Consequently, it rarely happened and they kept just photocopying the old one. As an Excel developer, I realised this was something that could very easily be automated.

One evening, I created the form as an Excel worksheet and made two innovations. The first was this button (and some VBA behind it):

Hit that, and the whole sheet changes. All the sums appear in a new, random order in each column. All you need to do now is hit the print button and you have a new, randomly generated exercise sheet ready for your child to fill in.

My second innovation makes me slightly ashamed. You see, as a parent, I was the one who ended up checking all the answers, and it turns out that I lack the combination of accuracy and attention span required to do a good job every time. So I designed a little cheat for myself:

Click to zoom
You'll probably need to zoom in to see that properly, but I added a second worsheet, called 'Answers'. When you generate a new sheet, behind the scenes Excel creates a matching cheat sheet marking aid for busy parents:

Click to zoom
Print that one off alongside the exercise questions page, and your checking becomes a doddle.

Anyway, I know some of the folks who ready this blog are parents, too, and thought some of you might be able to make use of this tool. So here it is. If you're a teacher who wants to use this in their school, please go ahead. If you want to adapt it or fiddle with the VBA, feel free; it's not protected in any way.

Download the Times Table Challenge.
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