School time in Jamaica!

As recently as this March, I had the opportunity to tutor some students in New York in Integrated Algebra in preparation for their Regents exams. The students were great, and eager to learn and wished do well. However, while tutoring, I noticed there was something missing in their fundamental understanding of the relationship between and among numbers.

Many of the students in high school simply don’t know their multiplication tables well enough and stumbled when it came to answering simple multiplication queries (eg. “what’s 9 times 8?”).

I realized they hadn’t been sufficiently prepared in their earlier grades.

In Jamaica, starting in second grade, students are taught to memorize their multiplication tables from 2 to 12. When I was at Pembroke Hall, for example, we drilled
“Two 1s two.
Two 2s four.
Two 3s six.
Two 4s eight”
etc., all the way to 12, ending with “twelve 12s 144!”

This memorization and practice would be drilled day after day from second grade to onward. The result is that Jamaican students have an affinity for numbers which forms a solid foundation for higher mathematics.

I remember my second and third grade teachers, Mrs. Sutherland and Mrs. Downy, respectively, walking around the classroom–with cane in hand–listening to each student as he/she recited, and giving a whack to anyone who messed up. As a result, the recitation becomes automatic, unconscious and quick. In fact, if someone in Jamaica wants to say something is done quickly, they might say it happens in “two 2s.” For instance, the paint advertisement I showed in the previous post could have said alternatively “In two 2s, it dry!” referring to the lightning speed at which one processes 2 times 2.

This simple training has far-reaching effects not only in school, but in daily life as well. For example, if you are purchasing several items in a store each with a price that ends in 5 or 0 (say, candy at 25 cents each), and the cashier tells you the total price is $1.57, you immediately know this is incorrect because any number multiplied by 5 MUST end in a 5 or a zero. It gives you a confidence with how numbers work and interrelate that improves your chances of success in school, life as well as in business.

Here is a video of 3rd grade students at Pembroke Hall Primary school in Jamaica reciting their “times tables.”

I learned that the recitation has been modified to now reinforce the complementary relationship between multiplication and division. (i.e. “Two 1s two. Two into two goes one time…”, etc.)

So, if you want your children to excel in math, start them early (or petition their schools) to drill this
view on Youtube
在中国 (view in China)

As mentioned, I went back to Pembroke Hall to speak to the students during their 7:30am Wednesday morning “Devotion,” where the students gather for prayer and a few words of encouragement before their day of class. Here are a few shots from a wonderful day!

click on image to see larger version
multiplication tables in jamaica
Students gather outside the classroom

multiplication tables in jamaica
Getting ready for my return engagement with Mrs. Brown

multiplication tables in jamaica
Who knows? One of these kids may just grow up to become another Jamaican in China!

My intro:

view on Youtube
在中国 (view in China)

Devotion in jamaica

talking to students in jamaica

talking to students in jamaica

devotion in jamaica

Then I decided to launch Ron’s public speaking career and put him on the spot as a real-life Jamaican pilot living in Macau. The kids loved it! Ron, on the other hand, had a few words to say to me about ambushing him like that!
Jamaican pilot in jamaica
Pilot speaks to pupils

Then, I asked Mrs. Brown to lend me a few students for a photo in front of the school
 in jamaica
Walking to the front of the school

Jamaican in jamaica
Say “cheese!” and remember: Only the best is good enough!

My first visit to Pembroke Hall

UPDATE Sept 10, 2013: I’ve donated a new website to the school! Check it out at! Even if you’re not a past student, you can donate to help Pembroke Hall Primary build a student auditorium:

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