There are several benefits of using a calculator in a mathematics classroom, all the way from kindergarten through schools and university level. Calculators are, as everybody knows, tools for doing mathematical computations. Calculators, when utilised appropriately, can be a great tool for learning mathematics.
Since its invention more than 30 years ago, the calculator has evolved from a machine that could just perform simple 4-function operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) into a tool that can now execute highly-technical algebraic manipulations accurately.
Each generation of calculators builds on the previous one with more advanced capabilities. Meanwhile, the cost of a calculator has dropped so low that pretty much every family in the United Kingdom can afford to acquire at least one.
Calculators are very valuable educational tools that can allow students and children reach the desired level of mathematical understanding. By reducing the time that was spent on learning and performing time-consuming paper-and-pencil arithmetic algorithms, calculator use nowadays allows students to spend more time developing math understanding, reasoning and applications.
Four-function, scientific, financial and graphing calculators, they all provide new pedagogical enhancement opportunities. They provide students with learning tools that can complement, while not replacing, paper-and-pencil and mental skills, and they expand students’ capabilities to resolve operations by providing multiple solution techniques.
What do parents need to know?
Many parents are a little apprehensive at the mere thought of using calculators into the math class. They fear that their children will not be able to learn the basics of mathematics, and they worry that calculator button-pushing might be the only mathematical skill the students will have acquired upon completion of their math education. Many parents are also concerned that their kids will become more dependent upon the use of calculators to the point of being uncapable to execute easy computations in their daily routines without the help of calculators.
These fears are totally understandable: the incorporation of technologies frequently carries with it scepticism as well as fear to the unknown. After all, the maths that most parents remember consisted mainly of performing long computations utilising either paper and pencil or tables, and endlessly drilling the skills they had previously learned.
Maths has grown significantly in the last 60 years. The tools available to help maths students have also evolved drastically. Maths nowadays is a subject that is truly more important for students to understand and appreciate; it’s a subject that holds meaning for students, a subject that allows them to think with logic, develop number sense, and to cultivate a real mathematical understanding. It’s also becoming engaging for students.
The progressive implementation of calculators into mathematics curricula at different levels of education is essential to the advancement of teaching and learning. Calculators and computing devices, such as graphing calculators, should not be feared; they are powerful tools that allow children and students to experience the richness of mathematics by reducing the need to execute paper-and-pencil operations.
Myths around calculators
Impeding the acceptance of a calculator into the classroom are the myths that still exist regarding calculator usage. These myths are slowing down, but not stopping, the inevitable implementation of calculators in classrooms. They are also putting students at a disadvantage in a society that is quickly embracing new technologies.
Evidence from research has shown that calculators are an effective learning tool; yet, due to the circulation of misleading information with regard to their nature, many parents and teachers continue to believe they can potentially be harmful. It is truly important that these myths are addressed as soon as possible, so calculators can be properly incorporated into curricula from kindergarten through the school and university level.
First myth: calculators are just a crutch
Calculators are used because children and students are simply too lazy to figure out the answers on their own; calculators do the work for students. There is virtually no mathematical thinking involved in doing these computations. A true comprehension of maths comes as a consequence of understanding what the problem is asking, understanding how to set up the problem, identifying which operations are needed and appropriate, and eventually determining whether or not the answer obtained really makes sense.
Calculators are just a tool children and students utilise to help resolve problems. Since they eliminate long computations and algebraic manipulations that discourage students, calculators do allow more students to resolve problems and appreciate the real power and value of maths in the modern world. When used properly, calculators can enhance learning and thinking, while they do not replace it.
Second myth: calculators do all of the work, the student won’t be challenged enough
Calculators do just the low level tasks of computation, so they are not “thinking”. Calculators actually speed up the learning process. Children and students understanding the appropriate use of these tools experience more time to explore challenging mathematics. Calculators allow students to work enough problems to discover patterns in mathematics. Students and kids will also be able to focus on practical applications for the concepts they learn in class.
Third myth: we didn’t need them in the past, so we don’t need them now
“If I didn’t need to use a calculator to learn math, then neither does my kid. I turned out just fine.” Since the calculators that exist today were not present for the previous generation, computations had to be done with pencil and paper through series of long steps. The world has quickly moved in the direction of devices and technology, however, and this technology has rendered obsolete most of the techniques that were utilised previously.
Due to technology, more students and children are now able to explore territories in maths that are still uncharted, and they are capable to do ‘real’ maths and understand its meaning and the real value. Frequently the parents and teachers who argue against the use of calculators and technology in maths classes have a fear of the unknown. They remember maths as consisting of drills and paper-and-pencil manipulations.
Since calculators and technologies are being implemented in classrooms all around the world, all students and kids must begin to understand technology, in order to learn the new core skills that will be needed in the future.
Calculators are just like computer word processors to language students. Computer word processors cannot “create” essays but they actually considerably facilitate the creation of an essay. Likewise, calculators don’t “understand” maths but they do truly facilitate the understanding of maths. Despite all of their abilities, however, they will never be able to replace the complex thought processes of which only people are capable. Even though many fears do exist around calculators, there are more and more parents who understand the rational benefits of calculators and that the pros outweigh the cons: in fact most families in the UK have their good old Casio calculator in a drawer at home.