Why are Mental Maths Strategies so Important?
Nowadays many of us carry a calculator in our pockets (mobile phones) or on our wrists (smart watches), so why is it necessary for children to learn mental maths strategies?
What is Mental Maths?
The term ‘mental maths’ refers to any mathematical calculation that is performed mentally, without the aid of a calculator, abacus or pen and paper. We use mental maths everyday, often without even realising it. Working out a tip at a restaurant, calculating how much some items are going to cost, converting amounts to different currencies when travelling, and so on.
A strong mental maths ability is a key foundation in establishing a deeper understanding of mathematical operations and calculations. As adults we all know how to trade, borrow or carry numbers in addition and subtraction sums according to algorithms we learnt at school but do we really have a deeper understanding of what we are actually doing?
Developing a solid foundation – why start with Mental Maths?
Young children begin with mathematical concepts as soon as they start school and in most cases even before they begin their formal education. The curriculum expects children in Year 1 to start learning mental maths strategies. Children are introduced to mental maths in a fun, engaging manner to help build confidence. If a child believes they can succeed at maths they will continue to practise and, in turn, strengthen their mathematical ability. Learning mental maths strategies also helps children develop their concentration, memory and problem solving skills.
The most important aspect of developing a strong mental maths foundation is that it improves children’s conceptual understanding of number and mathematical relationships not just memorisation of some steps they need to follow. They not only learn what to do but more importantly why they are doing it. It is no longer a case of understanding the steps of an algorithm to solve a problem but an understanding of why we perform those steps. Children can struggle with written algorithms because they forget how to perform the steps correctly. If they are taught a deeper understanding, which mental maths does, then the steps become clearer and calculations, even with larger numbers, become quicker and easier to perform.
Sounds great – but what are the strategies they learn?
Children begin learning mental maths strategies related to addition and subtraction before moving onto multiplication and division strategies.
Some addition and subtraction mental strategies that children begin with include:
- Counting on from a larger number to find the total of two numbers
- Counting back from a number to find the remaining number
- Using doubles and near doubles
- Bridging to ten
- Using place value to partition numbers
As children progress they will be introduced to strategies such as the Jump, Split and Inverse strategies.
Some of the multiplication and division strategies that children will be taught include:
- Repeated addition
- Repeated subtraction
- Using place value concepts
- Using the Commutative Property of Multiplication