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.