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"Bestimation": Using basic calculators in the numeracy classroom

B. Newmarch
V. Rhodes
D. Cohen
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation: 
National Research and Development Centre for adult literacy and numeracy
Resource Type: 
Number of Pages: 
Product Type: 
Skill Level: 
NRS EFL 3--ABE Intermediate Low
NRS EFL 4--ABE Intermediate High

"Bestimation" is one of several linked publications arising from the five Effective Practice Studies carried out by the National Research and Development Centre for adult literacy and numeracy, (NRDC), London, England. This report looks at how the imaginative use of calculators can enhance teaching and learning in adult numeracy classes. It suggests a range of activities to develop estimation and problem-solving skills, providing learners with opportunities for self-directed and self-paced learning.

What the Experts Say: 

The resource makes an astute observation that while technology continues to enhance our daily lives there is research that shows the ”use of calculators is scarcely taught in adult numeracy classes”.  This statement promotes additional questions to be asked such as: why not, how should calculators be incorporated, what are the positive and negative effects, how do calculators promote learning in an adult numeracy classroom, etc.?  This resource addresses each of these questions by addressing concerns most often seen by both instructors and learners.

This resource consists of a number of estimation or “Bestimation” games that students can play in the adult education mathematics classroom. They were suggested by teachers in adult education in the UK.  All of them promote “number sense.”  They also support place value concepts and quick calculation using mental math.  These are skills that anyone using mathematics, whether for a test such as the GED or in real life, need. The calculator here is primarily used as a backup for mental math estimation and computation.  The games are enjoyable for many students. (I’ve used some in my classroom previously.) They permit students to analyze how they think mathematically and help them to adopt more successful strategies.

It is important that the teacher has played these games before introducing them to the class. In introducing them to the class, the teacher should carefully model how the games are played.  These are not what students would ordinarily think of as games and are probably very different than any they have ever played before.  Time should also be taken away from the game to go over the strategies students have used and, perhaps, some the teacher might suggest. Printing out the instructions in the resource would be very helpful for both students and teachers. The resource specifically states “excerpts can be used or reproduced for non-commercial purposes.”

The only caveat about this approach is to remember that math in real life (and on the GED) is never just fast solution of discrete computations.  Context is very important to include in mathematics instruction. These games, while useful and fun, need to be supplemented with applications relevant to the students and to the GED.

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