VIDEO: Maths whiz Abdullah, a true Times Tables Rock Star

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Abdullah didn't much care for maths until his school introduced Times Tables Rock Stars. Now he is so fast at multiplication, when he took on young maths minds from around the country, he came out number one!

For most people, an abiding memory of childhood is the relentless drilling of multiplication tables. Everyone – whatever their age – will have spent many hours at some point in their lives reciting their times tables. And, for many, it was a stressful, largely unpleasant experience.

Times tables, alongside reading, are an important stepping stone in education. Once a child has mastered basic numeracy and reading comprehension, learning other subjects tends to become much easier.

The age-old problem for parents and teachers has always been how to make times tables fun. Repeating lists of numbers over and over is hardly the most inspiring way to spend an hour.

This is the problem that was tackled head-on by teacher Bruno Reddy some years ago. He devised a novel way of improving the multiplication and division recall of his pupils that was fun and engaging.

With funding from SHINE, Bruno built a website that allowed children to answer maths questions against the clock. As they progress towards “rock legend” status, the children are rewarded with badges. They also compete against classmates and even other children around the world ­- an element of competition that encourages and inspires children to success.

Times Tables Rock Stars is now used by a high proportion of England’s primary schools and it is achieving fantastic results.

One of the recent converts to Times Tables Rock Stars is Marshfield School a large, two-form entry primary in inner-city Bradford. Marshfield’s catchment is in the top 20 per cent most deprived areas of England and the majority of its pupils are from an ethnic minority background, with many having English as an additional language.

Despite the challenges it faces, the school has been transformed in recent years.

“We’ve been on a real upward trend from the last, I would say, five years,” says Assistant Headteacher Scott Daykin.

“We had a new headteacher and things have just been improving and improving, especially our maths which is a real strength of the school.”

“In class all you can hear is click, click, click, all the time. Wet playtimes, all they want to do is play Times Tables Rock Stars. It’s been unbelievable, really. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Scott Daykin Assistant Headteacher

In the summer of 2018, Marshfield decided to introduce Times Tables Rock Stars into the classroom.

“We needed some sort of initiative to really push times tables and a quick recall of facts and we wanted to make it fun and we didn’t want something that was repetitive,” says Mr Daykin. “We found that Times Table Rock Stars was a perfect platform for that.”

The impact was immediate. “It’s just rocketed. The children are all on board. They’re all engaged. There are competitions going all the way around the school.

“In class all you can hear is click, click, click, all the time. Wet playtimes, all they want to do is play Times Tables Rock Stars. It’s been unbelievable, really. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

In November 2019, as part of Maths Week England, Times Tables Rock Stars held a competition pitting schools across the country together in the search for the nation’s times table superstars.

The pupils and staff at Marshfield jumped at the chance to show what they could do.

“The children said, ‘there’s a competition going on, what should we do?’ and I said, ‘just do your best, let’s see what happens’.”

The children did their best and soon several of them were near the top of the national league table.

One of those battling for top spot was Year 6 student Abdullah. He has recently developed a love of maths, largely because of Times Tables Rock Stars.

“In Year 5, I didn’t really care about maths,” says Abdullah. “I realised, now, I need to concentrate so I put my head down and now I’m in Year 6 and now I’ve basically accomplished what I want.

“I first learned in my homework book all my times tables. I didn’t know them in a flash, now I do because of Times Tables Rock Stars.

“It’s not like those boring maths games that are like 5×2… It’s competitive with everyone.”

That element of competition saw Abdullah storming up the national tables. He even brought in a keyboard from home that could keep up with his lightning-fast recall and super-speedy fingers.

Watching Abdullah solving sums is an extraordinary sight. He seems to answer the question almost as soon as it’s displayed on the screen.

“I was eleventh in the world and I kept playing… three minutes, three minutes… I was shocked because everyone played so much. The points went up from 10,000 to 20,000.”

The performance of Abdullah and his classmates caught Mr Daykin by surprise.

Mr Daykin and Abdullah

Half a day into the competition he realised that they were in with a shot at winning the competition, beating children from around the country and even further afield.

“When I heard that we were doing so well, I was thinking we could really, really make a difference here.

“All the way through the week, it was just intense. It was insane. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

As the week progressed, Abdullah’s fingers were flying faster than ever and he was into the top three in the country.

“It was hard,” he admits. “The people who were second and third, they were playing loads, so I decided, when I go home, I’m going to play TT Rock Stars so I can get myself to first and impress all my teachers and my friends.”

This is the magic of Times Tables Rock Stars – encouraging youngsters to do maths at home, because they want to.

By the end of the week, Abdullah was holding onto his top spot, despite tough competition from another rock star somewhere else in the world.

“The competition ended at 7.30 and I was in relief finally that I could stop,” says Abdullah. He had done it.

“I felt amazing that I won!”