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Mental gymnastics for your students: building computational skill and understanding

Other Presenter(s): 
Julie Jones
Other Presenter(s): 
Patti Schacht
NCTM Annual Meeting
April 15, 2011

Save paper by using your head! Classroom video will show the astonishing mental arithmetic that nearly all young children can learn to do. Take home easy activities you can use with your own students to build not only great mental computational skill quite quickly but also the focus, attention, and working memory students need for problem solving.

Problem solving requires not just facts, concepts, and habits of mind, but also “mathematical infrastructure”: the ability to keep a few numbers, ideas, processes, and goals in mind while also keeping track of where one is in the processes. Certain kinds of highly focused practice help build that infrastructure. Mental mathematics is a perfect context for that kind of practice, achieving two goals at once: great computational facility, and increased understanding and ability to solve problems.

Mental math—arithmetic or not—requires us to keep many numbers (or other objects) and processes in mind at once and keep track of our place in the problem. The activities we’ll show do more than build computational skill: gaining comfort with the processes and developing the ability to keep track of them also builds algebraic and logical reasoning.