Mental Maths is one of the key challenges facing teachers today. If I were to ask you to tell me what 1287 dived by 29 was, most adults would wish they had a pen and paper in front of them (or a calculator!) What doesn’t come into our heads first is trying to mentally calculate a rough idea of the answer. We should probably be seeing that 29 is quite close to 30 and go from there. We need to give children these abilities, particularly in a world where rote learning is becoming less relevant.
Many teachers have come up with good Mental Maths starters in their classrooms. (I don’t mean an infamous book called “Mental Maths” which is anything but!) One such concept is called the Target Board. Essentially, this is a grid with numbers in each box. The teacher sets a target number to reach and children must find as many ways of reaching that number through any numerical operation. An example is below.
For example, children could go with 20 x 5 or 5 x 5 x 4. The great thing about this exercise is its open-ended nature. It can be as easy or as difficult as one wishes.
Other examples of mental maths starters in the classroom are: 24 and Countdown.
Countdown is the equivalent of the numbers’ game in the quiz show of the same name. The teacher displays a target number and 6 smaller numbers to get that answer.
In the above example, to get 10 points, one might try (100 x 2) + (8 x 7) + 1. Depending on how close the student is to the answer, the points lessen.
To play 24, the students are given 4 numbers and they must use each number once with any operation to make 24. For example, if the teacher listed 4, 6, 6, 8 – a valid answer could be (6 x 8 ) – (6 x 4) = 48 – 24 = 24.
These have great opportunities in the classroom and the concept of competing with their classmates adds an extra dimension of fun to the whole affair. However, wouldn’t it be great if they could compete with other classrooms around the world?
Google have recently added a new concept to their Google Docs, which I believe has very interesting educational value. The concept allows authors of a document to have discussions about that document to the side of the screen. Google’s own blog outlines how this works really well: http://googledocs.blogspot.com/2011/03/introducing-discussions-in-google-docs.html
This new concept works in all of Google Docs applications and I’ve thought of an idea, which I’d love to try out with other schools. Taking our Mental Maths approach, if I designed a slide with a targetboard, a countdown numbers game or a 24 game and then shared it with everyone who wanted to join in, it opens the whole thing to a much wider audience. It could be used as a tool to get schools to compete with each other in Mental Maths. What child in Cork wouldn’t be motivated to kick the ass of a child in Kerry in some sport – be it football or mental maths!
To see how this could work, let’s take a look at an example slide created using Google Docs:
Right now, this targetboard can only be viewed by me. If I make it public, anyone with the link can access it. I do this by clicking on the link, which, at present says: “Private to only me”. A box will pop up and I decide to change this to “Public on the Web”.
Once this is done, I’m now free to advertise a public Targetboard challenge. The link to the slide is given, (in this case click here to go to the slide), and you will see the Targetboard. So far, so good – but how do you get the schools to compete with each other? The secret is in the “View Together” link at the bottom right of the presentation.
Once you click on this, a side panel appears on the right hand side with all the names of all the users logged on to this slide. Now each school can type in their answers to the target board. At the end of an agreed time, the number of answers for each school are calculated and a winner is determined.
For the Countdown game, the first school to correctly type in the formula for the target number wins; likewise for the 24 game.
Let’s say 10 schools agreed that each day at 10am, they would log on to the agreed link and compete with each other. A league or tournament could be set up. In fact the possibilities for fun ways to learn maths in an open-ended way are enormous. For example, a classroom of children with their own laptops or iPod Touches could all compete.
To me, this all sounds very possible and requires very little to set up. The only thing to do now is see if it can actually happen in real life. If there’s any schools that are interested in trying this out, please comment below or send me an email and we’ll see if we can try it out for one week. I’ll report our findings here and see what happens after that. If anyone wants to organise it amongst themselves, let me know how you get on too.
Google Apps always surprises me with their tools that can be used for almost anything. Let’s see if we can grab another educational opportunity!
Last Update: Aug 17, 2017