What Are Math Computation Skills?

A young teacher is standing in front of her chalkboard with a math equation written on the border.
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Math computation skills comprise what many people refer to as basic arithmetic: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Generally speaking, computations entail finding an answer to a problem via math or logic. They can be carried out by not only by humans, but calculators or computers, as well.

Importance of Math Computations

Even with the existence of modern technology, however, math computation skills remain an integral part of students’ math education because they lay the foundation for success in future math learning such as algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus. They’re also important because they’ll enable students -- as adults -- to easily navigate everyday life tasks such as finding the price of marked down merchandise, figuring out which size of item provides the best value for their money and accurately doubling or halving cooking recipes, to name a few.

Progression of Computational Skills

Math computation skills are usually introduced during the early elementary grades in the following order: addition, subtraction, multiplication and then division. Teachers often reinforce math computation skills via games, timed tests and drills. New learning builds upon prior knowledge and is continually dependent until students have mastered all four skills. For instance, problems can be simple enough to solve mentally, such as 5 – 2, or multi-step problems that require pencil and paper, such as 3 – 4 * 17 – 8.

Not Just Whole Numbers

Computation skills apply not only to whole numbers, but also to decimals, fractions, mixed numbers, percentages, ratios and proportions. They include arithmetic operations on these types of numbers as well as conversions between them: for example, changing a fraction to a percent. Math computations include rounding and estimation, too.

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