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Improv 2: The Real Times Tables and Strewing



Illustrations: 1x4, 2x4, 3x4, 4x4, 5x4

The Real Times Tables

Each task of the course is a quick math improvisation prompt. It has an activity base, and one variable you can change in it to start improvising. You are welcome to find and change other variables, if you want, as well. Happy math improv!


Suggested improv variable: strewing

How does the place where you strew materials change your kids’ attention and play patterns?


Why strewing?

Get at your child’s eye level and slowly look around. How many prompts for math do you see?

We can casually strew a little bit of mathematics in all our spaces. Place a game, a printout, a math sketch you made, a quote, a cartoon, a puzzle - anything rich in math - where you and your kid will see. It adds up powerfully over time!

The real times tables basic activity

Wait a second. This doesn't look like a multiplication table at all. Or does it? Curious? Read more about it on the Math Future wiki

For more details on why play this game at all and how to play it with children of various ages, check out the Real Multiplication Tables Game - Full Description post on our blog.

Look for objects or pictures around your house that represent multiplication. Mark them with sticky notes with the multiplication expression your found, or just “X” for the multiplication sign.

Take snapshots or make sketches of your finds, or collect movable multiplication objects. Aggregate them into real times tables.

Infants  - Use bright dots, small toys or stickers to point out quantities. Photograph the baby holding real multiplication stuff, for more fun!

Toddlers - Be creative and open: young kids see much fancier math, especially multiplication, than adults do. Give children stickers so they can mark features they found. If they go into a free play with the object, let them - just use math words alongside the game.

Kids - Older kids can create more artistic multiplication tables in a variety of media. Try timed photo scavenger hunts, to find as many multiplication examples at a museum or a park as possible.

Adults - It’s very hard to find examples of real multiplication past five. Some people find the activity of finding examples for real times tables strangely addictive.


Real Time Tables BUZZ Words

  • Group
  • Multiplication
  • Bonus word - Unitizing is the ability to work with a group of numbers as a whole unit. Our number system is based on units of ten. Cards, dominoes and dice make it easy for players to unitize, because counters are organized in patterns. Iconic numbers help to unitize.


The real times tables improv time!

  • Look around your child’s room. Do you see math on the walls? On the shelves? Above the bed? Is there a multiplication table in your child’s room?
  • How about other rooms in your house? After all, your child might not be spending that much time in her room.
  • Change your strewing!


Send the class a short video or a story with photos about your real times tables strewing.


1. How are little math reminders everywhere change your and your kids’ attention patterns?

2.What else do you notice about real times tables?

3. Which math words did you use as you played?


Task Discussion

  • Erin   Nov. 8, 2011, 10:21 p.m.


    My five-year-old resisted several of my attempts at this. It probably seemed too forced or like I was trying to teach him something that wasn't his idea. It's much easier when it is his idea -- or he thinks it is. I love the idea of strewing because it is a way to influence or suggest a path. I will definitely use the idea.

    We had some fun with cars and trucks. I wondered why the fire truck had three wheels on one side. Don't vehicles have four wheels? Does that mean it has one wheel on the other side? Of course the kids knew that was silly, but they didn't know that they knew automatically that there were three pairs of wheels and that there were six wheels.

    The kids were interested in multiplication today when they wanted to share snacks with each other. First, they got a special treat from a vending machine, so they were already super-happy. One had four cookies and the other had a bag of "fruit" snacks. So, we had to decide how many fruit snacks should be traded for one cookie. We did the math of 2.5 servings in the bag times eight pieces in a serving. (I told them the answer, but I probably could have gotten them more involved.) Then we had to divide the 20 pieces into four groups to figure out how many to trade for a cookie. (We drew a picture.) 

    When we talk about multiplication, we are usually talking about "groups" of things. How many groups do we have? What is the "total" number? With the fire truck, the kids knew that wheels come in a "pair" and a pair is two.

  • Yelena   Nov. 8, 2011, 11:07 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Erin   Nov. 8, 2011, 10:21 p.m.

    Erin, I smiled as I read about your "snack math" :) It definitely gets my son motivated! Whenever there's a food item involved (as long as it's not veggies), his attention span at least doubles. As for grouping, I've actually been wondering about this myself. We tend to do that as well and Mark has a much easier time with groups. Especially if I keep the number of elements in each group under 5 because then he doesn't count them, but subitizes instead (so he builds groups faster and usually more accurately). 

    As for the fire trucks - I've never even thought of 3 as an iconic number for the tires, but it's great! It's pretty hard to find 3's for our multiplication tables.

  • Erin   Nov. 5, 2011, 6:27 p.m.

    Am I the only one who had to look up the definition of strewing? This is what I found...

    Playing the games this weekend and will post more soon!

    erin :)

  • Yelena   Nov. 5, 2011, 8:49 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Erin   Nov. 5, 2011, 6:27 p.m.

    Erin, that's a great article on strewing. I do like that it mentions both leaving things around and rotating them. I actually always thought of strewing as just the former as in "Mark's room is a mess with toys strewn all over the floor". wink Another really good idea that's in the article you linked to is including outings (or even driving by a construction site) into the category of "strewing". So then Maria's Math Trek outings can be thought of as a form of math strewing. 

    Let us know how the boys like playing math games. 

    - Yelena