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What is Mental Math?

Carry the decimal point one space to the left and multiply by two. There! You just calculated a 20% tip.

If you use techniques like this one on a regular basis then, congratulations! You are a practitioner of mental math. Of course, some of the math abilities that we grownups use on a day-to-day basis have to start somewhere. That place is in schools, and in math enrichment programs such as Math Monkey Cleveland. 

In this post, we would like to define some things about mental math. What is mental math? How does mental math work? Is mental math all based on memorization? Let’s do some digging.

What is Mental Math?

Mental math is a set of abilities students gain in math classes that allow them to make calculations “in their head.” This means doing problems without a pencil and paper, and without a computer or a calculator. Mental Math involves the memorization of basic “math facts,” and the application of those facts to more advanced problems. 

Why is Mental Math a good thing? 

Mental math is a critical skill for basic daily use. Say your child, as a grownup, is in the grocery store. They only need a few things, but they need to keep the bill under a certain amount. Having a solid grasp of numbers will allow them to roughly add up the price of the things in their basket and maintain their budget. 

In addition to adding up prices while shopping, another helpful thing mental math enables students to do is compare prices of different items. If someone wants hardboiled eggs, and a dozen raw eggs costs $2.49 while ten pre-cooked hardboiled eggs costs $2.99, maybe the time saved is worth the extra $.08 or $.09 per egg. Little moments like this are the essence of the necessity of mental math. 

How Does Mental Math Work?

Step 1 - Learn the basics: memorize times tables, learn how to add and subtract, learn basic division. 

Step 2 - Then, apply fundamental skills to estimation, and other uses. (Examples include: shopping on a budget, estimating how long something will take, how big something is, or how far away it is. 

Step 3 – Finally, learn how to solve problems for which you have not memorized a fixed procedure. 

If you’re wondering whether your own ability to perform math tasks on a day-to-day basis is based on memory, then you would be surprised to find out you are mostly right! For example, if you multiply any two numbers 1-12, and you’re able to solve the problem instantly, then that is actually an act of memory. If you have this ability, you can thank your parents and your math teachers for drilling it into you.

Mental math would apply the memorized knowledge using various techniques such as halving and doubling used in the 20% tip scenario. It may involve use of digit sums to test answers and the magic of 11 to easily shortcut certain math problems. A student armed with mental math techniques will better understand their math all around and will be a better problem solver.

When math enrichment programs like Math Monkey Cleveland are given the opportunity to instill these habits in students and develop these skills, then those students will be set up for a life where the more advanced math they need to succeed in science, technology, engineering and math jobs will come much more easily. And everyday life!

At Math Monkey Cleveland we help students visualize math problems through games and activities, to help students learn math in a way that is fun and engaging. Our methods make the students forget they are in a classroom, all while they are learning and developing real math skills that will help them in their careers and for the rest of their lives.

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