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Make mathematics magical

Published: Feb 9, 2015 2 min read

Stephen Lyon

Mathematics Lead

National STEM Learning Centre

I am a little confused. Well, no change there then!

Nicky Morgan has announced a war on illiteracy and innumeracy and is expecting students to learn up to the 12 times table.

My first confusion came from watching the Prime Minister, at a news conference, refusing to answer 9 x 8, claiming that he only does times tables in the car with his children on the way to school. If this is the only time the Prime Minister needs his times tables, why are they so important to the rest of us?

My second confusion is why the 12 times table? After all the 11 times table is fairly trivial. I am sure even the Prime Minister could confidently rattle off 9 x 11. The 12 times table was useful when we regularly dealt with 12 inches in a foot and 12 pence in a shilling. But when was the last time you used the 12 times table in anger?

Now don’t get me wrong, I am all in favour of students being confident when dealing with number and being able to do times tables. I just think there is a bit more to it than learning times tables.

Taking mental arithmetic to another level is the amazing Art Benjamin. In this TED video 'Arthur Benjamin does Mathemagic' Art performs incredible feats of mental dexterity. This would make a great start to a lesson on arithmetic, followed by students performing some of the tricks from the 'Manual of Mathematical Magic' such as 'Doing Fibonacci’s Lighting Calculation' which contains a neat reason why being able to multiply a two digit number by 11 is really useful. Follow this with the 'Mind Expansion Jinx and the Mathematics of Mental Methods' from 'Maths Made Magic' and finish off with the DfE Standards Unit resource 'Performing Number Magic' in which students analyse simple number 'tricks', and explain how they work.

Now, I think that would make a lesson to enthuse students about the wonder of number and the magic of mathematics. But then again, I may be wrong.

Discover more about mathematics and magic by coming along to our free, family mathematics open day in York on the 21 March! To find out more and book your place click here.