Calculator Spelling



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NCTM Standards and Calculator Spelling

A Word List

A Calculator Spelling Exercise

Another Calculator Spelling Exercise

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This is one of those nifty little activities that belong in every math teacher's bag of tricks.  The basic idea is to solve a math problem with a calculator, then turn the display upside down.  The correct answer should spell out a word. It's easy to do, a lot of fun and the kids love it.  In addition to building keyboarding skills, it rolls in a number of other topics, such as place value, properties of zero, order of operations, exponents, parenthetical expressions, integers, spelling and vocabulary.  It all depends how creative you want to get with it.


I used calculator spelling questions for warm-ups, bonus questions and fillers if I had time left.  I always kept a dozen or so on hand that I could whip on the board in a hurry. It lends itself well to round robin activities, such as math stations. It's particularly good for those high energy days like the day after Halloween or the day before Christmas break when everybody is wired. This is typically a noisy, active session with lots of laughing and OMG.


This is simple to set up and there are a lot of web sites that cover it.  Here it is in a nutshell.


The digits 0-9 can all be used as a letter when turned upside down.


0 = o or O

1 = l or i or I

2 = z or Z

3 = E

4 = h or H

5 = s or S

6 = g

7 = L

8 = B

9 = g


So the word BELL would be 8377.  But remember, that's what it looks like upside down, so the answer to the problem has to be 7738.  Then it's just a matter of inventing a math problem that equals 7738.  It can be as simple or complex as you want to make it.  This is easily tailored to individual or class levels. I taught grades 6, 7 and 8. I could use the same answers to get the same words but the problem to get there would be different.


A variation is to have a question with a two or three word answer, which requires the students to correctly interpret and separate the words.  For instance, the answer 71077345 turned upside down becomes 54377017 or ShELLOiL.


Another variation is to use parentheses to get your answer but leave them out of the problem.  The students then have to place the (   ) in the correct place to get the correct answer.  It raises the challenge level and is self-checking - very cool.


Still another variant - have the students create their own questions and answers.


Be careful with leading zeroes.  Most displays drop them.  So 07734 ( 43770 - HeLLO) becomes 7734 (4377 - HeLL).  To fix it, include a decimal point to fix the zero in the answer.


So how many words are there?  That's a moving target.  Here's the best list I've been able to find.  You can make any word plural by adding -s or  -es to the end.  You can create a descriptive word by adding -ish at the end.  Also, don't forget abbreviations and acronyms.


The variations and innovations you can do with this simple activity are almost limitless.  It's not the kind of thing you can do all the time, but when pulled out of your bag of tricks, it can be most productive.


To the left are some links to some other related resources, including an exercise that I used.


Enjoy .....Mister L


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