Since getting back into the classroom, I’ve been reminded how much students struggle with simple mental math. I cannot even begin to account the number of times I hear “What’s 4 x 7?” or “What’s 4+19” blurted out in math class. When I follow up these questions with “You know this, take a second and think about it”, I sometimes am told that they just can’t and they grab their calculator and punch it in before I can get anywhere.
I have been thinking a lot about how I can combat this daily struggle. As much as I’d like to, I don’t think I can afford to take a few days away from my plans to reinforce a deeper understanding of arithmetic. In a perfect world, I could take a week and use manipulatives and applets and anything else of value to really develop a deeper understanding in my students. I’m not sure it would be acceptable if my students fell behind the other sections to review “elementary” skills. Then again, as I write this, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if my students got something out of it.
As I start to think more and more about this, I even start to wonder if it’s really a big deal. Almost every one of my students has a phone with a calculator on it that they can whip out and use at any point in their daily life. Those that don’t, probably can find access to something that does the same trick very quickly. If they’re going to use calculators outside of class when they try to use math in the real world, should I be wasting my class time trying to reinforce skills they won’t need or use.
I do have an idea. I don’t think it’s perfect, but I hope to refine and develop it in the conversations that follow this post.
I am considering bringing “Mad Minutes” into my high school math classes. I’m not sure if that’s what they are commonly called, but that’s what they were called when I was a student. Basically, students get a sheet with 40-50 simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, or whatever you’d like. Then you start the timer and they try answer as many of them correctly in a minute. We would always get a score, which was the number of consecutive correct answers. I remember being successful with them as a young student. But I don’t know if they work for everyone or really work at all.
If I were to bring mad minutes into my classroom, I don’t think I could justify grading them. I would, however, want to keep a record of how everyone did and see if there is any progress made. But, most importantly, I would want to see if there was a reduced use of calculators or those “What’s 5 x 9” questions.
Is there something better out there being used to combat this in math classrooms?