Do you recall memorizing the multiplication tables while in grade school? Kevin Hull, pringcipal of Lee Kornegay Intermediate School in Miami, AZ, knows this knowledge is vital to future success in mathematics. And he should know. Prior to becoming the principal of this third- through fifth-grade school, Hull spent most of his career in education teaching junior and senior high school mathematics.
He says, “The number one cause of failure to advance in math studies is a lack of computational skills. Learning long division in fifth grade is challenging. There are several steps to be completed. If you do not automatically know the multiplication tables, you get stalled trying to complete the first step in the process.”
To encourage students in his school to master the multiplication tables, Hull created the “Math Masters” (AKA “The M&Ms”) program. A grant from SaddleBrooke Community Outreach helps fund the program. Students who can recite the tables receive a black t-shirt emblazoned with green M&Ms. According to Hull, “We make a big deal of their success.” Their achievement is recognized with an announcement and special presentation of the t-shirt. Hull will also go into class rooms at random and present a pack of M&M candies to those students who are “Math Masters.” The desire to receive a t-shirt and candy, along with the pride of being recognized as an “M&M” has proven to be a strong incentive for the students.
Hull notes that the program has produced significant results. “In the first semester of this school year, from August through December, our students’ math test scores schoolwide showed slightly under (.93) a full year of growth in just five months. The teachers love the program.” This approach – incentivizing students to acquire skills through a combination of rewards and competition – has proven so successful with mathematics that teachers at Lee Kornegay Intermediate School are looking at ways to adapt it to teaching reading skills.