I am always cautious about math tricks. As a middle school teacher, I never liked to see my students still counting on their fingers or working out basic mental math using some kind of “trick.” Take the trick away, and those students have a difficult time processing mathematics and sometimes basic arithmetic.

Obviously, some people need alternative ways to learn, but math tricks seem to short change students of their numeracy skills. We have all probably had the experience of trying to get change from a cashier after the sale has been punched in and discovering we had the “correct” change in our pocket. Some cashiers can make the adjustment quickly, while others flounder and look helpless. I always leave those encounters thinking that we need more mental math in our classrooms.

It may sound like I am against math tricks, but I’m not. I think students learn differently and some of them need different strategies to arrive at answers. However, I am against math tricks when students don’t or aren’t able to progress into the basic math skills they need.