MATH MAGIC

The Human Calculator Shows How to Master
Everyday Math Problems in Seconds

SCOTT FLANSBURG

"The Human Calculator"
with Victoria Hay, Ph.D.

Introduction

"Know, love, and believe what you're doing-and you'll be the happiest person there is." This is the message I've been carrying across the United States and Canada for the past three years. I'm living proof that the statement is true.

In 1989, J. B. Lauchner, Sue Colwell, and I formed a company, which we called Youth Enterprises, Inc. Our goal was to make a difference in children's way of looking at and relating to math. We believe there are no mathematical illiterates-only people who have yet to learn to do math in a way that works for them. As with any problem in life, there's more than one way to solve a math problem.

While on our mission, we ran into a surprise. Our original program, Motivation thru Mathematics, was aimed at children. We discovered, though, that their parents and other adults were just as eager to learn our fun and creative way to manipulate numbers. Lifelong math phobias had left scars on their psyches-they had even altered their career choices to avoid math-but now they were faced with the responsibility of helping their children learn math. Cold with fear, willing to try anything, they found our program was as useful for themselves as for their children.

To our delight, too, teachers were just as excited to learn new methods they had never seen before.

Can you imagine being a teacher today? Imagine keeping children raised with remote control multichannel gratification interested in math taught with the same methods that have been used for the last one hundred years! I come into a classroom for an hour, have fun, and show some new ways of looking at math. Usually, the teachers are seeing these methods for the first time.

The responsibility for educating our children cannot be left to teachers alone. We all must take a part-not just teachers, but parents, grandparents, and corporate America. We all offer creative new methods that can reach both left- and right-brain learners, girls and boys. Everyone is capable of learning math and enjoying it.

Numbers are around us every day. There isn't a profession that doesn't use math. A person who can't understand numbers is just as handicapped as a person who can't read. And yet as a society, America approaches math in a self-defeating way.

If you take all the fallacies that we labor under - "girls can't learn math"; "people who are good with words are bad in math"; "you don't need to know math because calculators and computers will do it for you" - then add a tradition of teaching that consists of put-downs and tests guaranteed to build counterproductive tensions, you have a formula for failure. In what other class is a student asked to stand at the blackboard, in front of all the other kids, and prove whether he or she can or cannot perform! Where else do you have ten minutes to solve 20 problems, for a grade?

It's frightening, too, how little we challenge the young minds in the classrooms. Many students today can graduate from high school with only one math course: general math in the ninth grade. We demand less and less from our kids. The less we expect, the less we get.

It doesn't have to be that way. One of my most exciting experiences with children happened in Phoenix, Arizona. I had been invited to speak to a group of second-graders. I was showing them how to add left-to-right, but I was limiting my examples to two-digit numbers. They were, after all, only in the second grade, and we normally visit the third grade and up. After a few exercises, the kids said, "Let's do three-digit numbers." We did three-digit numbers. Then they were asking for four digits. Suddenly they were raising their hands faster than we could write on the board. They were screaming out the answers! Every kid in that room was excited, and not a single one was lost. They were all participating. Some of them got wrong answers, but that was all right, because they knew it was okay to be wrong.

When children are given a creative tool to overcome their own anxiety, they create enthusiasm and self-motivation. Once teachers understand that there are many different approaches to math, their enthusiasm is contagious. That's when math scores start to go up.

I greeted you with "Know, love, and believe what you're doing and you'll be the happiest person there is." I've always enjoyed math. When I was younger, I thought all adults could do what I could do. I thought I was just ahead of my peers. I was also fortunate in having teachers in upstate New York who were very liberal. They said that if I could explain my methods to everyone, they would allow me to continue using them. I've heard a lot of horror stories in the last few years about experiences learning math-enough to help me realize how fortunate I was in receiving my math education the way I did.

I hope I can dispel the myth that math is only for nerds. After high school, I joined the Air Force "to see the world," and that's what I did. I spent three years in Japan. I learned to speak Japanese and found the culture there fascinating. But what was most important to me was that the Japanese were as intrigued by my math methods as my fellow Americans. People everywhere have a need to learn what makes math work and how to make it work for them.

While I was in the service, a friend asked me to help his son. The boy was failing in math. As I showed him new ways of doing math, I experienced great satisfaction in watching his mind and self-esteem open up. His teacher was amazed at his new abilities, and she asked me to speak to the rest of her class. That's when I began to believe in what I could do for both children's and teachers' confidence in themselves and in math. I believe in everyone's ability, and my own ability to touch their lives. That leads me to loving what I'm doing! I now have the opportunity to speak on national television, on radio, and in front of corporations. I speak to thousands of students and maybe, just maybe, I help to change their lives for the better. What more can one ask from life?

I give you this book. Remember to have an open mind. Have fun, and grow rich with confidence.

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