The Question of Calculators in the Classroom

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The Question of Calculators in the Classroom

Since the ancient Sumerians in Mesopotamia began using an abacus to deal with large numbers, counting machines have become a valuable tool in mathematics.


Today, our electronic calculators can be used to solve just about any equation you could imagine, but using technology in our mathematics does have its pitfalls. At Spirit of Math Schools, one of our goals is to arm students with the skills they need to perform calculations mentally. In keeping with this objective, it’s vital that teachers know when it’s appropriate to use a calculator, and when it’s not.


Calculators can be a valuable tool, but their downside is that because the devices do all the work for us, they could reduce a student’s understanding of the work they are completing. Students should learn when it is appropriate to use calculators and when it is not. Here are some Dos and Don’ts when it comes to calculator use in your classroom:


When Developing Certain Skills  
When it comes to units focusing on developing skills in mental calculation, calculators should be left alone. The Grade 5 Relocation Property and Grade 10 Radian Degree Conversion units for example, utilize mental calculation and mental recall skills, and students should be encouraged to complete exercises in these units mentally, without the use of a calculator.


When Introducing New Concepts
When presenting students with a difficult concept for the first time, put the calculators away! You want students to understand the concepts first and develop the skills that they need before moving to procedures. Once they have properly comprehended the concepts and understand the procedures, then they can use the calculator to complete them. In this case, when they are using the calculator they understand what they are doing instead of purely memorizing steps.  As you introduce a new concept, the goal is to develop a new set of skills that will be necessary to tackle it and calculators make it difficult for students to do so.


When Mastering Concepts  
Once students have mastered the necessary steps to formulate a solution and have the techniques down pat, then they can bring out their calculators. For example: The Operations with Rationals unit depends on prime factorization and this is something that students have already mastered in Grade 5, which means that they can use the fraction button of their device in order to speed up the calculation and focus on developing new skill sets in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division of rationales.


How are calculators useful? How do they reduce a student’s ability to learn new skills? Let us know your thoughts! Be sure to Engage and share your comments!


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