Re: Best Newer HP Calculator under $40 Message #19 Posted by Don Shepherd on 18 July 2008, 2:40 a.m., in response to message #15 by brian healy
Regarding the use of calculators in the public school classrooms, we have had this conversation several times before in this forum. Those who bemoan the use of calculators by students are usually pretty misinformed about what actually transpires in the middle school math classroom; I just don’t think they have spent much time there, and that’s a pity because every parent should take an interest in their child’s education. I believe that there are some serious problems with public education today, at least as currently practiced in the United States. However, use of calculators in math classes is not one of them.
As a middle school math teacher for the past two years, my experience tells me that these are some of the real problems:
 Students are sometimes not taught the multiplication tables during elementary school
 Long division is generally taught in elementary school, but not to the depth that most kids get mastery of it
 Some school systems have stopped teaching about fractions
 Estimation is generally not stressed
 Real world problems are often times not studied
 Kids are forced to learn useless things (like stem and leaf plots and box and whiskers plots) that they will never use or see in the real world, because these items will appear on standard tests that kids must take and upon which schools are evaluated
 Kids spend an inordinate amount of time preparing for and taking standard tests, time that would be better spent learning and practicing new math concepts
 The way that we teach math insures that most kids will hate it
 Parents who have had bad experiences with math pass these feelings along to their children
These are only a few of the real problems facing our education system today. Use of calculators does not even make the list. Many math teachers, especially older teachers, do not use calculators in their classrooms, not because they think it is inadvisable but because they do not understand calculators themselves and therefore cannot show their students how to use them. And, contrary to some sentiments expressed in this forum, I think this does a disservice to the kids. They will become adults and live in a world full of technology, and calculators are part of that world. Today, of course, almost all kids (and adults) can use a standard fourfunction calculator; that is part of the real world and they will be expected to have at least that knowledge when they end up in the work place. Most teachers who do let students use calculators, myself included, teach how to apply math concepts with pencil and paper first and expect students to learn how to apply those concepts without calculators prior to letting them use calculators. The reason is simple. Once a student shows me he/she can multiply 177 by 104.5 without a calculator, then I let them use a calculator (for that purpose) so that we can move on to higherlevel concepts. I teach my algebra students how to use the quadratic equation with pencil and paper before I show them how a calculator can help automate that process. I think that that is responsible and students benefit from it.
The public school teacher today has to compete for the student’s attention with cell phones, Ipods, Iphones, electronic games, digital cameras, the list goes on and on and new electronic gizmos are added every day (when I was a kid, TV was something relatively new). Kids today are surrounded by and fascinated by electrons. If I can use a calculator (or any tool) to help a kid understand and use a math concept, and just maybe take an interest in the concept, you’d better believe I’m going to do it. I want my kids to understand the concepts and be prepared for the world they will face in a few years, and I will use whatever tool I think is appropriate to that end.
Those who bemoan the use of calculators in math classrooms should actually spend some time there. They might learn something.
