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  • Writer's pictureAlex Box

Finding joy in mental calculation

Like many at age 18, I wasn´t really sold on what to do for a career. What I did know, was that I wanted to become completely independent, quickly.

Out of various part-time jobs, the best paying was in hospitality. So I'd regularly say yes to long shifts of serving customers and balancing the books.

While half a lifetime ago, when I think about mental calculation and its importance, I think of that job. Balancing the books was an ongoing drag and all I had to rely on was rote-learnt algorithms and a calculator. The latter, I realise now, was a crutch.

Joy in strategies

Eventually, I moved from hospitality to education and by 2010 I was a fully qualified primary teacher, working full time in a school. It wasn´t until teaching Year 4, that I started developing a different relationship with, and approach to, numbers.

It was in the curriculum to teach mental strategies like the ´split´ and ´compensation´ strategies. This may sound a bit over-the-top but for me, this was almost...mind-blowing.

Not only did the students start to think about, and have a choice regarding, how they approached different calculations - they started having preferred strategies.

One student came to school the day after we explored the ´jump strategy´. She had brought a purple poster completely jam-packed with number problems solved using the jump strategy. All of her own accord. She´d clearly found a strategy that made sense, that worked, and that was joyful, for her.

Finding your own approach

I also started to approach day-to-day calculations in this way. How empowering it was to be able to rely on my human brain alone!

I´ve well-abandoned the old-fashioned algorithm purely for the fact it doesn´t bring me joy to use it. And using my own processes does.

I'm sure it's a hit of dopamine I get when a mental calculations is successful.

When I discovered number talks, their value was immediately obvious. It´s become one of my favourite maths talk routines. They´re quickly becoming the best part of the day for many maths learners. And teachers!

What's your relationship with mental maths?


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