Making the songs even more powerful

A quick post on a much larger topic, that I’ve been meaning to write about for a while.  However, about to start term 5 on a PGCE, I don’t find myself with much free time at the moment…

Having immersed myself in writings from inspirational maths educators (Gattegno, Goutard, Boaler…) I want to critique the songs on this site.  My worry is that they promote the view of maths as a series of tricks and facts to learn by rote, rather than to deeply understand.  Do the songs really help children comprehend what multiplication means, or do they just help children learn a set of syllables?  I think there is a way to make these songs really powerful tools for teaching maths concepts, and that is by filming music videos containing visual images of multiplication.

The inspirational maths education professor Jo Boaler has a great website where she posts some research papers and lots of ideas for activities.  To give you an idea of what I mean, have a look at her Math Cards activity – this helps children learn their times tables using a wide variety of visual images.  If I had time I would plan some lessons, or a club, for children to come up with their own images and patterns using anything they could find (equipment around the school, shoes, toys, themselves…) and record them as a music video.  On one of my placements in a year 2 class the children drew and built their own images, and created their own matching card game – it seemed to really help them understand the idea behind multiplication.

If anyone has any thoughts, or wants to just go ahead and try something like this out, please get in contact.  I’d love to link up with like-minded people.


Future plans

I have now left Summerhill and I am about to start my PGCE in September at The Mead in Trowbridge, Wiltshire.  So it’s a good time to take stock.

  • We have launched the times tables songs in 4 primary schools around Bath and Bristol
  • They have linked up with 3 secondary schools – so far 2 recording sessions have taken place and another 2 are lined up for late 2014/early 2015
  • 2 of the secondary schools are planning to roll this out to their other feeder schools
  • Children in various different schools, and the year 12 BTEC students, have been writing their own songs
  • We have run a Skype singing assembly and have made links with schools in Slovakia, Russia and the USA, with plans to develop our relationship over Skype in the near future
  • Year 12/13 BTEC schemes of work have been rewritten to incorporate this project
  • I have presented this at The Power Of Music conference of music educators, and shared this resource with several music hubs around South West England, so hopefully more schools will be singing their times tables soon
  • I am starting to think about adapting more famous songs to help with other areas of the curriculum – long division, grammar…

So if you are planning to start this project in your school please do keep in touch and I would love to link up once I have taught some songs to the children at The Mead, or whatever schools I end up in on my placements.

Have fun!


Skype singing assembly

I’ve been meaning to blog about this for a while.  Back at the end of June we ran an assembly over Skype, involving years 3, 4 and 6 from St Michaels junior school in Bath, and years 5 and 6 from Summerhill academy in Bristol – over 300 children.  I was in St Michaels to play piano, and my colleague Richard Welsh ran the assembly in Summerhill.

Summerhill went first and taught St Michaels the 5 times table song that some of the year 6 girls had written.  St Michaels then taught Summerhill the 11 times table song, also written by some year 6 girls.  My only role in either song was to co-ordinate a discussion in an assembly at St Michaels where the whole school got involved editing some of the lines.  Both songs are great and the songwriters got a massive cheer from both schools.

We couldn’t use the screens to show lyrics, because they were being used for the video call.  Summerhill had a troupe of children out front holding up boards with the lyrics on (despite their worries about whether the St Michaels children could see their bum), and in St Michaels we had printed out lyrics on lots of A3 sheets of paper which we blu tacked to the wall.

We spent quite a bit of time soundchecking and running test calls during the week before.  The challenge we had was feedback when we used the same laptop in Summerhill to play the sound file and also to run the Skype call.  This was resolved by using a separate laptop and amp to play the sound file, leaving the main laptop and PA system for the Skype call.

Unfortunately, after all the work to get this sorted in the soundchecks, in the manic rush before the assembly we forgot to set the second laptop up!  But it still went well and both schools really enjoyed it, and can’t wait to do it again.  A Summerhill pupil who had recently moved from Slovakia was inspired to make contact with her old school, but unfortunately their summer term had already ended.

In any case, this project has led to us making contact with schools in Russia and USA, as well as Slovakia, and we hope to develop the relationship with those schools next year.

New songs

Please don’t be restricted by the fact that we’ve got a song for most of the times tables now.  There’s no reason why we can’t have several different songs for a single times table.  That would give us a great excuse to set up a class (or assembly) over Skype, where different schools teach each other the songs that they have written.

We’ve got a good starting point.  There seems to have been a continuous outpouring of creativity from some of the St Michaels year 6 children.  As well as writing the 11 times table song they have also written a 12 times table song which we haven’t yet had the chance to develop (Rhythm of the twelves).  I’ve also seen their early ideas for various new songs, including a new version of the 7 times table to the tune of Do you want to build a snowman, which I’m going to shamelessly steal next term.

The band have also written their own song, the 10 times table to Love me again by John Newman.  They taught it to the children at Begbrook primary school and it went down amazingly well.  Better than most of my songs, in fact.  I’ll get them to write out the lyrics and I’ll upload the files next term.

So, this is a challenge to you to get writing!  Please do let me know how it goes and send me any files so I can share them on this site.  I won’t be offended if someone writes a better song than me… honest…

Post-16 work experience teaching the times tables songs

All students from Kings Oak are offered the opportunity to take part in work experience.  Our year 12 BTEC music students spent their week in Begbrook primary school, teaching the children some of the times tables songs, and performing with them in an assembly.  I had no part in this, so it was a great chance for them to lead the project themselves.

I don’t know much about what happened during their week, so I’m hoping that the students will be able to blog about their experience, once school starts again in September.

I’m also hoping that I will be able to put up a video of them performing some of the songs with the Begbrook children.  It looks amazing!  We’re checking about parental consent and if everything’s OK I’ll upload the video in September.

How to use these songs

I’ve seen how a few different classes and schools are using these songs to teach the times tables, and I’ve picked up a few good tips:

  • Get the children up and dancing!  St Michaels year 3’s added a great bit of choreography to Roar where they all crouched and pounced like a lion during the chorus.  Great fun and it gets everyone laughing.  Plenty of research has shown that laughter releases dopamine into your brain, which turns on the learning centres and makes the brain more productive
  • Children need to practise zoning in on the relevant lines of the song.  At the moment it can take some of the lower attainers nearly a full minute to answer 9 x 7 – they sing the whole song, including the non-vocal riffs, and it takes a while to get to the higher numbers!  I’d like to get children answering a sum by only singing 2 or 3 lines of the song.  For example, for 9 x 7 they could sing “49… 8 times 7 is 56… 9 times 7 is 63”.  With practise they would zoom into a smaller and smaller segment of the song, and eventually fix the individual times table fact in their memory.  Maybe a pipe dream?
  • The songs don’t work on their own.  They’re great for getting children motivated, they’re great as a memory aid, but they’re best used as part of a repertoire of strategies.  I have watched classes where children are also shouting them back in a military drill style exercise, writing them on whiteboards, extending the 8’s to the 80’s and the 0.8’s, and so on.  I’d also like to get children examining the patterns of times tables on hundred grids, using Dienes cubes and various other strategies.  Relating the patterns to the number bonds of 10 could be an interesting investigation and powerful in linking together different strands of maths.

3x table song – Threes Are The Champions

Here are the lyrics for our version of We are the champions.

3x lyrics

We haven’t yet got around to recording this with the band.  It’s a very challenging song to play, and we ran out of time to rehearse it before the last recording session.  It’s still in the pipeline and we hope to record it next school year.

Here is the rehearsal file for the song, exported from Sibelius.

3x Champions (Dm) – rehearsal file

This was one for the teachers and parents!  It never quite captured the children’s imagination.  Maybe if we had done this as the first song then they would have got into it more, but they’ve been spoilt by doing loads of current songs that they know really well, so it was a hard sell.

11 times table song – Roar

Here are the lyrics for Roar.  This was written by some of year 6 at St Michaels C of E junior school in Twerton, Bath.  A few of the lines were edited and improved by the whole school in an assembly.  This was another song where I had very little to do with the output.

11x Roar – lyrics

Here is the final version of the song.  As with the 2x table song, this features years 3, 4 and 6 from St Michaels and the Kings Oak year 12 band

Roar (11x table)

Here is the rehearsal file for the song, exported from Sibelius.

Roar (Bb)

2 times table song – I Knew You Could Double

Here are the lyrics for I Knew You Could Double, our version of the Taylor Swift classic

2x lyrics

Here is the final version of the song, featuring years 3, 4 and 6 from St Michaels C of E Junior school in Twerton, Bath.  The band is the same group of year 12 musicians from Kings Oak, who had worked with Summerhill on the other songs on this site

I knew you could double

Here is the rehearsal file for the song, exported from Sibelius.

I knew you could double (F#)

The vocals are really fast all the way through.  This is fine in verse 1, when the children are simply singing the times tables.  But I got a bit ambitious in verse 2 and tried to get them to sing about doubling higher numbers (2 x 16 = 32).  You’ll be able to hear yourself – this doesn’t really work.  The children stumble over a lot of the words.

In hindsight I would either have spent some time working with the teachers to embed this into the relevant lessons on doubling, and using the opportunity to rehearse the song harder, or I would have just got the children to sing verse 1 twice.

Of course it’s your call how you choose to do this!  If you try any other ideas please blog back and let us know about it.