Mental Math is a core focus of mathematics. It helps students develop essential skills they will need for working with numbers and assists them with daily mathematical thinking and problem solving.
Writing equations horizontally on the page, rather than vertically, lets students focus on the “numbers,” not just the “digits” they are dealing with. Much of the current international research suggests that vertical algorithms inhibit a student’s ability to develop number sense. At all grade levels, students should do Mental math activities daily for approximately five minutes. Mental Math activities should be connected to real-world contexts in order to make the numbers in calculations more meaningful.
When students are calculating mentally, speed should not be a factor in determining how successful they are with the task. Mental Math is not to be confused with mental recall. Students differ in the amount of time they need to process mathematical concepts, and, so, it is recommended that Mental Math activities not be timed.
Mental Math strategies need to emerge from a student’s own thinking. Students often invent elegant strategies to solve problems. Try to refrain from teaching mental Math as a set of rules or tricks.
When conducting Mental math activities in your classroom, students benefit from discussing various strategies for solving the same problem. Consider having students solve one question five different ways instead of solving five different questions one way.
Encourage students to both share their own strategies and listen to the strategies used by others. Students should be able to reason and justify their strategies as well as represent them with charts, diagrams, and manipulatives. ENL (Empy Number Line) is a powerful tool students can use when they are developing and reasoning new Mental Math strategies.