## Kiss those Math Headaches GOODBYE!

### How to Let Kids Use Calculators Without Ruining Their Ability to Think Numerically

Hi folks,

Now that summer has officially begun, I’m enjoying a certain distance from the heat of the school year, and that distance gives me a chance to reflect.

One set of ideas that my mind keeps poking around again and again is this:  a) the weakness in actual number sense among today’s elementary and secondary students,
b) the concomitant modern focus on teaching Number Sense during these school years, and c) the now-rampant overuse of calculators.

I find it interesting that Number Sense has become a “big important new topic” that math instructors are required to teach. I also find it interesting that the new focus on Number Sense has been growing steadily at the very same time that students in so many parts of our country have become more and more calculator dependent.

Could there be a connection?

Yes, undoubtedly! Back when I set up shop tutoring math, K-12, in 1990, Santa Fe (NM) Public School students were not permitted to use calculators willy-nilly. Because of that, our students were not calculator-dependent. Students were expected to know the truths of arithmetic forwards and backwards, and wouldn’t have dreamed of reaching for a calculator to find the value of something so simple as, say, 7 + 5, as happens routinely today. Yes, routinely! I should know; I’m a professional math tutor.

What’s more, I’d say that students in the 1990s generally understood concepts such as odd and even numbers, prime and composite numbers, how to prime factorize, how to find the GCF and the LCM, and the many other skills that are part of the “new area of math instruction we call Number Sense.

That’s because teachers used to require students to use their minds to work with numbers. Students used to grind out 7/18 + 5/12 by hand, not by pressing buttons. They used to figure out the LCM of 22 and 30 by using an algorithm rather than by tapping an app. They used to prime factorize numbers using the good old factor tree and simplify radicals by thinking rather than by pressing a sequence of buttons and scrolling through the numbers flashing across their LCDs.

You can probably see where I’m going with this. Today’s math students have become overly calculator dependent. That dependence on calculators, in turn, has made them deficient at the skills in the topic area we call Number Sense. And precisely because today’s students are so deficient at number sense, precisely because they have been allowed to become so dependent on their e-devices rather than on their mental devices, curriculum designers have devised this whole new area of math, Number Sense, that now gets taught as its own “thing” rather than being an integral thread of everyday math instruction. Number sense used to be something students developed naturally, by mentally working with numbers, day-in, day-out, using paper and pencil and mental math.

Lest I be called a Luddite, I’m not saying that calculators have no place in the math curriculum. But as a tutor who has helped students with math for some 27 years now, I can say with certainty that today’s students’ innate ability to work with numbers, play with numbers and calculate with numbers has been dulled and frankly allowed to atrophy because calculators have become an all-too-easy, all-too-available crutch.

In this way, math curricula and math educators who overly promote calculator usage have done a great disservice to students. The good news, though, is that  teachers could correct course without too much trouble.

Teachers could still allow students to use calculators, quite appropriately, for higher-order processes — such as graphing two functions to see where they intersect, and to see if the answer found that way comports with the answer attained by solving the systems simultaneously by hand — while at the same time disallowing calculator usage for arithmetic calculations.

I’d like to see teachers get their students back to basics in this way because, from my perspective, we’re raising a new generation of students, many of whom have little ability to calculate mentally and little understanding of how numbers work. As a result, these children (soon-to-be adults) are unnecessarily vulnerable.

They’re vulnerable because they cannot tell if they are receiving the correct change from a cashier. They’re vulnerable because they cannot tell if their car or home interest payment is correct. And they’re vulnerable in a larger sense because they lack the ability to easily think numerically, i.e., quantitatively. And when people lack the fundamental ability to think quantitatively, even having a calculator won’t save them in many situations. That’s because they might not even know what operation to do to find a solution in a real-world situation.

But in an even more direct and practical sense, the new calculator-dependent students are vulnerable because they have been set up to struggle mightily in their college math classes. That’s because nearly all U.S. colleges require students to take math tests without using calculators!

So I say let’s get back to basics, and let’s do it in a smart way. Let’s continue to let students use calculators for higher-order thinking skills, but let’s disallow calculators for ALL arithmetic so that students will be required to once again become strong in those critical fundamental skills and so that they will re-gain the natural form of Number Sense that is their right and their due.

### “Algebra Survival” Program, v. 2.0, has just arrived!

The Second Edition of both the Algebra Survival Guide and its companion Workbook are officially here!

Check out this video for a full run-down on the new books, and see how — for a limited time — you can get them for a great discount at the Singing Turtle website.

Here’s the PDF with sample pages from the books: SAMPLER ASG2, ASW2.

### Find the LCM — FAST!

Here’s a video that goes with a blog entry that many people have found helpful: Find the LCM — FAST! This trick can be a real time-saver, so feel free to pass this around.

Josh Rappaport is the author of the Algebra Survival Guide and Workbook, which comprise an award-winning program that makes algebra do-able! The books break algebraic concepts down into manageable chunks and provide instruction through a captivating Q&A format. Josh also is the author of PreAlgebra Blastoff!, which presents an engaging, hands-on approach (plus 16-page color comic book) for learning the rules of integers. Josh’s line of unique, student-centered math-help books is published by Singing Turtle Press and can be found on Amazon.com

### How to Find the LCM for Three Numbers

Several readers have said they like my trick for finding the LCM described in the post “How to Find the LCM — FAST!” but wonder how to use the trick for finding the LCM for THREE numbers. Here is how you do that.

Essentially it involves using the same LCM trick three separate times. Here’s how it’s done.

Suppose the numbers for which you need to find the LCM are 6, 8, and 14.

Step 1)  Find the LCM for the any two of those. Using 6 and 8, we find that their LCM = 24.

Step 2)  Find the LCM for another pair from the three numbers. Using 8 and 14, we find that their LCM = 56.

Step 3)  Find the LCM of the two LCMs, meaning that we find the LCM for 24 and 56. The LCM for those two numbers = 168.

And that, my good friends, is the LCM for the three original numbers.

So, to summarize. Find the LCM for two different pairs. Then find the LCM of the two LCMs. The answer you get is the LCM for the three numbers.

Here are a few problems that give you a chance to practice this technique.

Find the LCM for each trio of numbers.

a)  10, 25, 30

b)  16, 28, 40

c)  14, 32, 40

The LCMs for each trio are:

a)  150

b)  560

c)  1,120

Josh Rappaport is the author of the Algebra Survival Guide and Workbook, which comprise an award-winning program that makes algebra do-able! The books break algebraic concepts down into manageable chunks and provide instruction through a captivating Q&A format. Josh also is the author of PreAlgebra Blastoff!, which presents an engaging, hands-on approach (plus 16-page color comic book) for learning the rules of integers. Josh’s line of unique, student-centered math-help books is published by Singing Turtle Press and can be found on Amazon.com

### How to Understand the LCM (Part 1)

I don’t know about you folks, but I’ve always been a bit disappointed by the various techniques for finding the Least Common Multiple (LCM) for a pair of numbers.

While there are several techniques that “work” — by which I mean techniques we can teach to students and have them learn quickly — I’ve known of no technique that makes good intuitive sense. In other words, I’ve known no technique whose underlying principle felt obvious.

Feeling frustrated, I started looking for a technique that would have that undeniable “ring of truth.”

Coffee, Pi and More

And so, after playing around in my “sandbox of numbers” for quite a while,  I’m happy to report that I’ve finally found what I had been looking for.

In today’s post I will show you a way to find the least common multiple that makes sense, at least to me. I hope it will make sense to you as well.

### How to Find the LCM – FAST!!!

Ever need to find the LCM (same as the LCD) for a pair of two numbers, but you don’t feel like spending two hours writing out the multiples for the numbers and waiting till you get a match.

Of course you need to do this — a lot!  Example:  whenever you add fractions with different denominators you need to find the common denominator. That is the LCM.

Here’s a quick way to do this.

The only way to teach this is by example, so that’s what I’ll do — by finding the LCM for 18 and 30.

Step 1)  Find the GCF for the two numbers.

For 18 and 30, GCF is 6.

Step 2)  Divide that GCF into either number; it doesn’t matter which one you choose, so choose the one that’s easier to divide.

Choose 18. Divide 18 by 6. Answer = 3.

Step 3)  Take that answer and multiply it by the other number.

3 x 30  =  90

Step 4)  Celebrate …

… because the answer you just got is the LCM. It’s that easy.

Note:  if you want to check that this technique does work, divide by the other number, and see if you don’t get the same answer.

PRACTICE:  Find the LCM (aka LCD) for each pair of numbers.

a)  8 and 12
b)  10 and 15
c)   14 and 20
d)  18 and 24
e)  18 and 27
f)  15 and 25
g)  21 and 28
h)   20 and 26
j)   24 and 30
k)  30 and 45
l)  48 and 60

a)  8 and 12; LCM =  24
b)  10 and 15; LCM =  30
c)   14 and 20; LCM =  140
d)  18 and 24; LCM =  72
e)  18 and 27; LCM =  54
f)  15 and 25; LCM =  75
g)  21 and 28; LCM =  84
h)   20 and 26; LCM =  260
j)   24 and 30; LCM =  120
k)  30 and 45; LCM =  90
l)  48 and 60; LCM =  240

Once you learn this trick, have fun using it, as it is a real time-saver!

Josh Rappaport is the author of the Algebra Survival Guide and Workbook, which comprise an award-winning program that makes algebra do-able! The books break algebraic concepts down into manageable chunks and provide instruction through a captivating Q&A format. Josh also is the author of PreAlgebra Blastoff!, which presents an engaging, hands-on approach (plus 16-page color comic book) for learning the rules of integers. Josh’s line of unique, student-centered math-help books is published by Singing Turtle Press and can be found on Amazon.com