When and When Not to Teach Math Tricks and Shortcuts

Shortcuts help students to get the right answer quickly. However, they are only helpful to students who have totally mastered a concept. Once students have mastered a math concept, giving them a shortcut is not only appropriate but also fun.

Kids who learn math shortcuts before fully understanding the concept are likely to use the shortcut inappropriately or fail to use it when the problem is presented in a different way. Another problem is that the children rely on the shortcut and consequently fail to appreciate the concept behind the shortcut.

Additionally, many shortcuts do not apply to all situations. Adding “0” to the end when multiplying a number by 10, for example, only works with whole numbers. The “rule” does not holds true once students start learning decimals. Therefore, kids incorrectly using the shortcut will get 0.130 when multiplying 0.13 by 10, rather than 1.3.

Many well-meaning teachers and parents attempt to help students struggling with math problems by offering them shortcuts. This approach of relying on shortcuts kills critical thinking, the fundamental skill children need when solving problems throughout their lives. Therefore, teachers should not introduce the shortcuts until the students have demonstrated understanding of the concept.




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