Friday, February 7, 2014

Calculators in the Classroom

Today’s technology has reached unprecedented heights. There are mobile devices that can access the internet almost anywhere and countless numbers of apps. One device that has come a long way through the years is the calculator. There are many different types of calculators, and each one varies in power and what it can do. Some are very basic and can only do the four basic math operations; add, subtract, multiply, and divide. Yet others can do derivatives, integrals, matrices, three-dimensional graphing, and many more. One of the more powerful calculators is the TI nspire CX CAS. This calculator features a backlit 16-bit color display with 100MB of storage. It even has the ability to do programming. It could do just about anything a student would need of a calculator, and potentially a lot more.

But many classrooms are not allowing the use of calculators, at least in specific situations. So let’s take a quick look at a few of the pros and cons involving calculator use in the classroom.

What are some of the pros to allowing calculators to be used? Well first off students need to know about the technology that is available to them. Let’s be honest after schooling most people will use calculators for some reason or another. And for the most part calculators are fairly straight forward. Though in the case of the TI nspire, the sheer number of menus and capabilities may be a bit overwhelming. To learn to truly use the nspire efficiently and individual needs to use it and practice. Another great thing about calculators is that they are fast and accurate. They can do many operations in a fraction of the time that it would take a human to compute the solution.

Now let’s look at some of the cons.  One of the biggest reasons for not allowing students to use calculators is because we want them to be able to understand and do the math themselves. If a student always uses a calculator they may be robbing themselves of truly understanding. Teachers need to know that their students truly comprehend how to solve a problem using math and not just how to punch numbers on a calculator. Similar to this is cheating. Some of the more advanced calculators allow students to type and store items in memory, say formulas or definitions. If a student is cheating in this way, they are not helping themselves learn the material that they are expected to learn.

I personally believe that students need to learn how to use and apply different mathematical concepts by hand or without a calculator. If used correctly, I truly think that calculators can be a great resource in the process of understanding. But, teachers must first learn how to best apply the new technology to further their student’s ability to learn.