Education

Head Cases

By Leah Kerkman — October 01, 2002 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Last December, Daniel Bzdok (pronounced BIZ-dok) was supervising his 5th grade class at Riverside Elementary in Brainerd, Minnesota, before the school’s annual holiday program. The students were allowed to bring games to play while waiting for the show to begin. Instead they begged their teacher to drill them on—get this—math.

“Kids ask for it,” Bzdok says. “It’s fun for them.”

Perhaps that’s because the 38-year-old teacher makes it fun. Every day, he sets aside 10 minutes or so for something he calls “mental math.” It’s an oral quiz with a twist: Students are not allowed to use calculators or even scratch paper to figure out the answers to a series of problems that Bzdok rattles off at an auctioneer’s pace. It’s like running through flashcards, he says—just without the cards.

Doesn’t sound too difficult? The following is a problem Bzdok says his students can handle by the end of the year: “Take five, square it, double that, find one-tenth of that number, minus one, square that number, minus one, double that, find one-fourth of that number, and what do you get?” (The answer is 15/2, or 7.5.)

Bzdok created the quiz five years ago, when Riverside adopted a new math curriculum that covers a wide range of topics, including geometry and data collection. Though Bzdok says he loves the lessons, back then he was concerned that the program did not spend enough time covering basic skills. And he had another motivation: A local school board candidate had just criticized Brainerd schools for being too dependent on calculators. This comment annoyed Bzdok, who took it as a personal challenge, according to Riverside principal Cathy Engler. After all, Bzdok says, “I’m not really a calculator person. . . . I like to use it as a tool, not a crutch.”

Engler says “mental math” has done the trick. “A lot of people in the community have seen [the game]. There’s no way you can be in one of our 5th grade classrooms and say they can’t compute in their heads. And they can do it at rapid speeds.” The principal laughs, adding, “That’s when they leave me in the dust.”

Bzdok says “mental math” teaches students more than how to calculate the right tip on a restaurant check. “The confidence that they have taken from this is incredible,” he observes. Ellie Whiteman, 11, who studied with Bzdok last year, agrees. After surviving the daily quizzes, she says, “It was like, ‘Wow. I can really do this.’ You felt good about yourself.”

A version of this article appeared in the October 01, 2002 edition of Teacher as Head Cases

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
When SEL Curriculum Is Not Enough: Integrating Social-Emotional Behavior Supports in MTSS
Help ensure the success of your SEL program with guidance for building capacity to support implementation at every tier of your MTSS.
Content provided by Illuminate Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Profession Webinar
Professional Wellness Strategies to Enhance Student Learning and Live Your Best Life
Reduce educator burnout with research-affirmed daily routines and strategies that enhance achievement of educators and students alike. 
Content provided by Solution Tree
English-Language Learners Webinar The Science of Reading and Multilingual Learners: What Educators Need to Know
Join experts in reading science and multilingual literacy to discuss what the latest research means for multilingual learners in classrooms adopting a science of reading-based approach.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated: June 15, 2022
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated: June 8, 2022
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated: June 1, 2022
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated: May 11, 2022
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read