Friday, August 21, 2009

Complexity in Action

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
Complexity in Numbers
This week I was privileged to see Scott Flansburg in action. He visited TCS and entertained a huge audience of staff while demonstrating his calculative ability.

He began with a few warm-up activities. How quickly can you add up a set of four two-digit numbers? Try this:
A human calculator

Scott can give you the answer to the above sum quicker than you can read the first number. He can do complicated calculations, with huge numbers, that would challenge anything you, I or an expert accountant could do with a calculator.

He calculates at lightning speed and very rarely makes a mistake.
And he’s proved it. He holds the world record for mental calculating.

Scott is an ordinary guy with extraordinary mental abilities. No slouch, he uses his smooth, motivational manner and enthusiasm for numbers – mathletics he calls it – to inspire and motivate young learners. At the moment he is touring schools in New Zealand doing just that.

Young mathletes

Fascinating his audiences by demonstrating patterns in numbers and in the properties and qualities of the array of single digits 0 through to 9, he is number crunching his way across the world, engaging
young learners in taking an interest in Mathematics.
NinesHe believes that there is nothing necessarily unique in the way his mind works anyone can learn to use their mind the way he does. What makes Scott different from you or me? He explained a few of the differences in the ways he thinks when calculating.

Basically he doesn’t use the memorised routines that are normally part of mental arithmetic. Times tables and addition tables assist us till situations arise where the tables run out. Beyond those, we resort to cumbersome hierarchical computational processes.

Memorising is limiting

Scott says that using memory in the traditional way for doing these manipulations is severely limiting.
AdditionThe ‘carrying figure’ and all that’s associated with it when adding lists of numbers is another aspect that Scott thinks slows you down. This is mainly to do with speed, accuracy and the way the mind works. With adding figures, he advocates toting columns of digits from the top. Starting from the left-hand column and moving right is more facile than the traditional right-column-first approach.

His ability is not unique, but his prowess of speed and accuracy puts him in a distinct position among many who demonstrate similar mental capabilities.


Plainly, Scott demonstrates the power of the brain to perform seemingly impossible and colossal computational activities, almost effortlessly, if used in special ways.
And guess what - he doesn't multi-task when he's calculating!

If there is a metaphor, I suggest the speed, agility and accuracy of the touch-typist who looks neither at the screen nor the keyboard, against the two-finger typist who looks down searching for the letters and aiming at the keys – that would be the level of my mental arithmetic.

Watch Scott Flansburg 'The Human Calculator' Promotional Video in Educational | View More Free Videos Online at
Rangimarie - Peace in Harmony


paul c said...

Interesting overview of a gifted person in math. I believe that some people have very special gifts like musicians and artists whose skills can be honed by training but there is something inherent in their abilities. How wonderful to see Scott energize large groups of students about the delights of mathematics. The first job of educators is to break down the walls of resistance.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora e Paul!

Yes Scott is quite a spectacle.He has a gift with people and especially with children which, apparently, is uncommon among those people who also possess the numeracy gift that he has. He was charmingly modest about his claim to greatness.

Catchya later

V Yonkers said...

My daughter lost her ability to look at a list of numbers and give the number when she was forced to learn to "estimate" when she was in third grade. Not only was she forced to calculate numbers contrary to her understanding of them, but she was forced to do something that she did NOT understand the purpose for. She'd say, "Why do I have to estimate when I KNOW what the number is." Being forced to think of math in a different way made her embarressed that she was not "normal". This still plagues her as she will tell people that she is not good in math.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Virginia!

I wonder about some so-called pedagogy. What mystifies me is that they are often so narrow in their point-of-view, dismissing alternative and possibly more effective ways of assisting learning.

I'm not criticising pedagogy. It's just that so little is fully understood.

I am familiar with situations similar to the one you describe here about your daughter. One of my daughters had poor numeracy at school - she did not do well in Mathematics. For whatever reason, she decided she was no good at Maths.

It turned out that by some chance of fate she ended up working as a teller in a bank, a job that she enjoyed. In her first few months in that employment she was sent on a course in Financial Process. She was scared before she went for she knew it entailed Maths.

When she came back she was elated as she topped the class! Work that out!

I explained her engagement in terms of

1 - method,

2 - interest,

3 - relevancy.

Catchya later