A math wiz with a different way of doing things amazed students at Julia Randall Elementary on Wednesday, Nov. 20.
Scott Flansburg often left an overwhelming majority of the approximately 180 fifth-graders gathered in the JRE library for an hour-long presentation with their eyes wide and mouths gaping as they collectively exclaimed “Wow.”
Student Kody VanBuskirk summed up the feelings of most of his classmates.
“He blew my mind,” Kody said. “This guy was amazing and so cool.”
Flansburg’s known as The Human Calculator for a reason.
The Valley resident with a TV show on The History Channel showed his ability to add numbers faster than a calculator That landed him in the Guinness Book of World Records for speed of mental calculation.
He asked teacher Kris Dieball to enter a two-digit number on a calculator, then keep adding the same number as fast as she could. They showed the calculator on a screen for the students while Flansburg faced them with his back to the screen.
He added the numbers faster than the teacher could enter them, just like he’s done for years. He got in the record book by coming up with 36 multiples of a two-digit number in 15 seconds, while the calculator managed just 28.
He’d be faster but, “My mouth can’t keep up with my brain.”
He told the students how he discovered his ability at 9 when he and a friend were using a calculator and his friend entered 5+5 and hit the equal button to get 10. He accidentally hit equal again and it read 15. Scott told him to hit it again and again and it kept adding 5 to the total.
“Something clicked in my brain,” he said.
He realized he had a gift for quickly adding numbers in his mind.
He told the students about the day he was in class at about that time and his teacher called him to the front of the class to add up numbers on a chalkboard because he didn’t seem to be paying attention.
“I did it backwards,” he said. “Instead of starting with the right column of numbers then carrying to the next column, I started from the left column.”
He came up with the right answer in a way that seemed quicker and easier.
His unorthodox methods didn’t thrill his teachers. It took two years before a teacher encouraged him to pursue his method, as long as he could explain it and it checked out.
JRE teacher Yvette Harpe thought the students got a lot out of the presentation.
“We always encourage students to learn different ways to do a math problem,” she said. “Often there is more than one way. The properties of addition and multiplication allow for numbers to be regrouped into easier mental math processes.
“Our math curriculum covers those as well as looking for patterns in numbers to have a strong number sense. The Human Calculator helped students to see how using the patterns within numbers can assist them in becoming quicker at calculating numbers which will help them in the problem solving area.
“Our students loved it.”
Flansburg showed the students several patterns involving numbers, including how all two- and three-digit numbers lead back to 9.
“It’s my favorite part of my career — performing at schools and inspiring children to learn about numbers and basic arithmetic and help them feel fluent in the language of numbers and not be afraid of numbers,” he said before his presentation.
“So, my mission today is to give the students a positive experience with numbers and demonstrate my world record and then I’m going to teach them the secret to numbers.”
Flansburg has appeared on many of the leading talk, radio and news programs and is the author of two books — “Math Magic” and “Math Magic for Kids.”
He really got the students’ attention when he had Dieball enter a three-digit number on the calculator with his back to the screen and said he’d do all of their homework that day if he couldn’t guess the number by asking them a few questions and studying their reactions.
He disappointed all of them by doing just that.
He told the students they needed to retrain their minds to think like a calculator.
Flansburg made the presentation at JRE after taking part in the Time Out Domestic Violence Shelter’s fundraising dinner and golf tournament at The Rim Club in October. Besides a similar performance at the dinner, he also donated the performance of his skills to the auction winner of a guitar donated by Pete and Judy Kennedy. The guitar was made by their son, Michael, of Indian Hill Guitars. Larry Heitz won the prize and donated the performance to the school.
Flansburg ended the presentation by talking about the National Counting Bee which he is the host and ambassador for. It’s like to the National Spelling Bee, just with numbers.
Several students and a teacher tried their skills adding numbers in a 15-second time span.
He encouraged students to enter the event, which will be in the Valley. For more information, visit thecountingbee.org.
Contact the reporter at