Keeping it Real! Mental Maths Questions Your Teen Will Actually Want to Answer!


If you have a teenager (or a pre teen) at home, you’ll know that their willingness to discuss maths questions with their parents often decreases exponentially as their hormones levels increase! Even for those teens who like maths, it can become a become a subject full of complex equations and abstract ideas.

With my own pre teen in the house I wanted to explore how parents can use topical questions to sharpen their teens mental maths skills so I’ve asked the team of teachers and educators at Teachnology – the worksheet resource website, to share their ideas with Maths Insider readers:

Making mental math fun

Does your teenager like performing mental maths? It seems to be a dilemma, as students are given more opportunity to use calculators and computers in the classroom (Did we get to use a calculator?). For teenage math students to be truly well-rounded, they need the mental skills to perform basic math calculations without the aid of a calculator, pencil or paper. The problem is getting the students to take an interest. What if they actually enjoyed that aspect of math? It can be a lot of fun.

Real world math problems

One tool that is helpful is to use real world word problems. When teenage students are given problems that are applicable to their issues and interests, they demonstrate far more involvement than when asked, “What is 24+37?” Presenting problems on math worksheets and in class and homework around jobs, money, cars, music icons, mobile phones, etc. can really pique their interest and generate some conversation. What if we asked the same question in this format, “Two football leagues are going to merge into a single league. The Spanish football league consists of 24 teams. The English football league consists of 37 teams. How many teams will be in the new football league?” Which question do you think would motivate students more? Students frequently fail to see the applicability of their studies to the real world. Word the math problems so they do apply.

Just estimate

Estimation can be a useful tool, and sometimes, estimating is enough. When a teenager is checking their answer, it can be useful to round to factors that are easier to deal with and then compare the results. For example, when attempting to multiply 48 x 103, by multiplying 50 x 100 = 5,000, the student is aware the answer should have 4 digits and be in the neighborhood of 5,000. Some real-world problems are too complex to be solved precisely and estimation is the only practical option. When comparing two options, the disparity between the two options may be great enough that estimation is sufficient to make an appropriate decision. Estimation is a frequently underutilized tool.

Develop some ideas around your child’s interests. Include the names of current movies, current bands, pop icons, etc. in your mental maths and watch your teenager’s interest soar. This is where some conversations with your teenager can really pay off. Ask them about their favorite music, favorite actors and movies. Really listen to the conversations between them and their friends. Any mental maths around mobile phone related issues are always popular.

Here are some examples to get the creative juices flowing:

1) Justin Bieber has asked Michael (your teen to dance in his latest music video. If Michael is offered $22,000 to dance in a 4 minute video, how much will he be paid per minute of video?

2) Your mobile phone provider has offered you the following options:

A) 500 free text messages per month, and each additional text is $0.10.
B) You also have the option of paying $0.01 for every text message.

C) If you send/receive 650 texts/month, which is the better plan? How many text messages would it take for both options to be equal?

3) LeBron James is paid $14,500,000 for an 82 game season, is that more or less than $150,000 per game?

4) Steve and Sarah (teens) start a dog walking business, charging $5.75 per dog walk. If each walk takes an average of 12 minutes, and the average travel time between customers is 18 minutes, how much would they earn (total) in 3 hours if they worked separately?

5) If Sandra Bullock drives a $175,000 Ferrari, and the insurance is $8,500/year, approximately what percentage is the insurance (per year) of the cost of the car?

6) If Emma Watson, (Hermione from the Harry Potter Movies) earns $13 million for a 120 minute film, how much does she earn per minute of screen time?

You now have enough information to develop mental maths that will increase the participation level of your teenager. Keep their interests in mind, and your child will have a great opportunity to round-out their math skills. Remember to consider estimation skills when developing your math problems; the applicability to the real-world is significant. “If it takes 17 minutes to develop 7 mental maths……”

Author Bio:

Teachnology helps 1 million teachers, homeschoolers and parents every month. They provide printable teaching resources and lesson plans.

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How do you get your teen excited about maths? Share your comments below!

Caroline Mukisa
About The Author: Caroline Mukisa is the founder of Maths Insider. A Cambridge University educated math teacher, she's been involved in math education for over 20 years as a teacher, tutor, Kumon instructor, Thinkster Math instructor and math ed blogger. She is the author of the insanely helpful ebook "The Ultimate Kumon Review" and insanely useful website "31 Days to Faster Times Tables" You can follow her math tips on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @mathsinsider

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

6 thoughts on “Keeping it Real! Mental Maths Questions Your Teen Will Actually Want to Answer!

  1. Wow, this is a cool site. My son just started doing horizontal math and I’m having heart palpitations. That’s not how I learned and new math scares me!! This is a great resource for parents.


    • Hi Jodi!

      Glad you like the site! Yes it is scary when our kids are using maths methods which are different to the way we were taught! One tip I have on that is to get your son to “teach” you the new method – kids love being the teacher sometimes!

  2. Hi Caroline,

    Thanks for calling over and leaving a comment at my blog.

    Have to start this with a WOW! like Jody above…. times sure have changed

    I was good at maths when at school about a 100 years ago:-)

    Very informative site … and a must visit by all parents with young families.


  3. Oh my did I hate maths when I was a teenager!!!

    I have quite a lot of older friends with teenagers (or there abouts) who would love this advice – in fact would love this entire site! I’ll pass it on.

    Kind regards,

    Emma :-)

    • Sorry that you hated maths as a teenager. I hope it’s now being a lot kinder to you! Do you still hate maths!

      Thanks for spreading the Maths insider love to your friends!

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