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## Mental Math Games (Part 1 of 3)

The attitude and approach to teaching mental mathematics in schools has changed radically over the past four decades as a result of the widespread use of calculators. Originally introduced in the 1970s as the optimistically named pocket calculator, electronic calculators have shrunk so that they are now truly pocket-sized and portable. In addition, calculators are commonly incorporated into other devices, from cell phones and computers to rulers and shopping carts. The adage that you’re never more than a meter away from a rat could apply just as well to a calculator!

In this brave new world, children would not have to be taught mental math, long division, or calculus, because calculators could complete all computational tasks faster and more accurately than the human brain. Rather than underpinning the teaching of the other disciplines of mathematics, mental mathematics would become an interesting diversion for teachers to explore with students at leisure, if curriculum and time constraints permitted. Whereas previously learning mental math skills had been a means to an end, enabling people to function adequately in a number society, in the future slide rules, times tables and log tables they would go in the trash. The supreme government calculator.

As has happened with many other technological advances, the reality of the calculator has not lived up to initial expectations. Calculators are indeed fast, accurate and almost ubiquitous, but we keep seeing news stories where major disasters are attributed to calculation errors. In almost all of these cases, it is not the computational device, whether calculator or computer, that has failed to calculate the correct answer. Instead, the problem is attributable to operator error, such that the person doing the calculation entered data incorrectly or misunderstood the math behind the calculation and received the correct answer to the wrong question.

The reality is that the calculator does not free anyone from the need to have essential math skills, because using a calculator requires an understanding of the underlying mathematical principles of calculation. Also, it could be argued that mental math skills are required to be able to do a quick mental calculation to check if the calculator’s answer is within the expected range. Consider the unfortunately all-too-common case of a doctor administering a dose of morphine that is ten times the prescribed amount, thereby killing the patient. A doctor with good mental math skills is unlikely to make this mistake, regardless of whether he calculated the dose with a calculator or in his head. If you have a solid foundation in mental math, you’ll quickly spot any miscalculations with a calculator.

Fortunately, educators quickly realized that there is as much need to teach basic math and arithmetic skills, including mental math, as there was in the pre-calculator era. Despite this, many parents want to further increase their children’s mental math skills by engaging them in fun mental activities outside of the classroom. The articles that follow consider options for after-school mental math training, including incorporating fun math activities into a child’s daily life, after-school clubs, or online mental math games.

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