Blog 3: Mental Math
In today’s fast paced world small calculations are done for us instaniously wherever we go, whether it be shopping online or at your job. Thanks to computers small calculations are done away with in lieu of time, but have you ever been to a place where their tills are not working, or had a delivery boy who could not do mental math very well? Since we are so use to computers and calculators doing all our math for us many freeze when it comes down to having to do math in our heads, and the customers get impatient and mad, and they start to demand the person to go faster which makes them more flustered and it goes on and on until the customers leaves or the employee gets the math done and hands over the change. Now think about this situation, is it really the employees fault? No, how about the customer? No, it seems like this is a problem where we can place no blame, but we can. To find who is to blame we only need to look at two sources, ourselves and our schools.
You may ask yourself why we, the people of this earth, are to blame for the failing of employees to do mental math. Well simply put, we made it this way! We created computers to help us, but we have become reliant upon them for everything from medical records to entertainment, and yes, even to math. With our reliance upon computers so high there are few people who can do mental math, or mental computation as others put it. I think this is best explained through a personal story of mine. I deliver pizzas Friday through Sunday evening, it’s not a great job but it’s a paycheck and that’s all that matters. I remember on my first day of work I was being trained in and I had to deliver with one of the other deliverymen, and for the first couple of hours all the extra money that we were given by the customers were tips so we didn’t have to do much math, but then we got an order where we were told to bring change for a 100 dollar bill, not so bad but the order was $12.86. Now I myself wasn’t so deterred by it and we went to the house and rang the bell, when the man handed my trainer the 100 my trainer had to pull out his phone and use the calculator! I interjected as soon as he pulled it out and said, “The change is 87.14.” and my trainer looked at me with wide eyes and said “How did you do that without a calculator?” and I simply replied “in my head”. On the way back to the store he asked me how it was possible to do that in my head and I explained it to him and he was absolutely stunned. Now this is just one story and this story has a pretty easy calculation but I’ve seen even easier ones completely overwhelm employees at places like McDonalds when their tills have given up the ghost. So we, the human race, are partially to blame because we created computers and have relied on them far too much for far too long. But there is another culprit and I’m sad to say it is our schools.
Now many think that American schools are among the best, and whilst we are not number 1 we are definitely in the top 10. Being that we have such a great school system, one would think that our students are getting the best education possible in everything from reading to math, well that is where we are incorrect. Now don’t get me wrong I love America just as much as the next guy, and our kids do get a fantastic education, but ask yourself this, how many times have you heard a teacher say “Use a calculator” or seen a test that says calculators are allowed? From first grade children are taught to use calculators on the simplest of problems, calculators are great tools for graphing and for typing in long string of numbers to save precious time, but as a high school student I would use them for simple things like 14+8! (I now use more mental math but, this is how I once was) And I’m not the only one who did this, many other students did it for this and sometimes even on their times tables! There was a time without calculators where students used their fingers, and minds to figure out questions like these, and we should still teach that, to foster mental math, but even our schools have fallen prey to the “computer reliance” that has our very society in a stranglehold.
In order to fix this problem there are two things that we, as a society, must do. First, we must break our dependence upon computers and calculators, and second (and this one leads into the first mind you) we must teach our students how to use mental math. If we do not start to do something now it may be too late and our students will keep having the same problems class after class. You may ask, well how can we help? Well I have two very simple changes that we can make, first don’t allow calculators unless they are needed (by needed I mean things like parabolas and graphing etc.) and also, even in high school, ask some questions that they must use mental math for and the first to answer them gets a piece of candy or extra points or some sort of reward. Now, rewards are sometimes thought to reduce the child’s want to do the work unless there is a reward, but if you think about it this is one where it does not matter because it puts the mental math in their brain and they will use it in other situations without even thinking twice.
Mental math is truly an important skill, and it is one that many people do not possess due to our dependence upon technology, and it is a skill that we must foster and grow again, lest it become a lost technique and our children become entirely reliant on computers for our mathematical computations. Finally, below I have added a video for you all to take a look at, one that shows how important mental math is.