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MathBait™ Multiplication

Chinese Sticks

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Ready to introduce multi-digit multiplication to your students? In this article we breakdown Chinese Sticks providing key information on the mathematics behind the method, when and how to introduce tChinese Sticks to students, and the pros and cons teachers and parents must consider.


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Primary Topic

Multiplication Methods







This method is quite interesting. It has surged across the internet as a smart and interesting way to multiply. As we dug deeper into its origins, we came up blank. It is referenced as the Chinese Stick Method, the Japanese Stick Method, Mayan Multiplication, and more. Some articles claim it originated in China in 11BCE, however we were not able to confirm this as these articles lacked any citation. Despite its name and official origin, we see this method as a fun exploration but nothing more.

The method connects to the geometric interpretation of multiplication using a compass and a straightedge.

To allow you to compare this method to the Standard Algorithm, we will consider 876×5. If interested in completing this method as an interactive, you'll want to gather a lot of sticks. However, students can explore the method by simply representing sticks as lines on a piece of paper.

Step 1: Gather and place your sticks

Each place value is represented by a stick. Thus, each place can have up to 9 sticks. Already we can see why this method can become a bit cumbersome...

For our example, when multiplying 876×5, we will need to gather 8 sticks to represent 8 hundreds, 7 sticks to represent 7 tens, 6 sticks to represent 6 ones, and finally another 5 sticks to represent our 5 ones in the second factor.

Line up each group of sticks in the first factor, 876, in parallel lines. Make sure to provide some space between the place values to organize your work.

three groups of lines, the first include 8 "sticks", next 7 "sticks" and finally 6 "sticks"n

Now, gather the sticks for the second factor, in our case 5, and lay them on top of your existing sticks. The sticks for the second factor should be perpendicular (or at a contrasting angle) to be able to "read" the product.

Previous image with 5 additional sticks added on top of the previous groups and perpendicular to the initial groups

It's time to read our sticks! We are looking for the intersections our crossing sticks form. Begin with the ones place. We must count every intersection our sticks make, in this case, that's 30!

previous image with each of the 30 intersections circled

If you have seen this method across the internet you might be wondering – it didn't seem this complicated in the video I saw! This is because many of the "math trick" videos are made to deceive you. It's unfortunate, but luckily if you scroll through the comments you will find at least someone who has pointed out the deception. These videos show "tricks" using carefully selected values. The problem with tricks in mathematics is they never always work and they detract from understanding. Thus, students end up worse off and more confused than ever because of this.

To finish off the method, continue to count the intersections of the remaining places.

Previous image with all intersections circled

We are left with 40 intersections for the hundreds, 35 intersections for the tens, and our initial 30 intersections for the ones. Just like in any other method, we must sum, and in this case carry. It is essentially 4000+350+30, leaving us with a product of 4380.

Overall Assessment of Chinese Stick Method

  • Interesting for small or select products

  • A great option if completing a unit on the different ways to multiply as it allows students to make connections between different methods and their existing understanding

  • Too much to write out

  • Can easily become very confusing

  • Time consuming

Our Rating:

3 out of 5 stars

Our Recommendation

We cannot see any practical purpose to this method. That being said, it is a great exploration for select values.

This is a fun activity even before students are introduced to the Area Model. Provide students with a basic multiplication problem like 13×2 that they can already compute (in this case by adding 13+13 rather than completing any 2-digit multiplication). Allow them to play with actual sticks, such as Popsicle sticks, and walk them through the steps.

Allow students to guess at how to use the sticks to "read" the product. Encourage them to look for patterns. Since they can find the product, they have a direction or destination to help guide them.

Follow up with a discussion on why this method works to multiply two values. Ask students to think about the pros and cons of such a method. If time permits, provide them will additional problems such as 13×6 (to consider carrying) and even 14×23 to push their reasoning.

For a cross-curricular connection, consider asking students why this method may have been beneficial long ago. When people did not have calculators, this method provides a great way to organize place value and can be used and afforded by anyone, they simply have to gather enough sticks!

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