Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Calculator Dilemma

Technology is important. In fact, it is vital to the twenty first century. In spite of this, every day I grow more and more opposed to calculator use in the classroom.

My MB31 class spent the day proving that a quadrilateral is a trapezoid by showing, with coordinate geometry, that two sides were parallel and two sides were not parallel. The concept of the trapezoid did not give them any trouble, nor did the slope formula. We hit a wall when we got 4/8 for one slope and 8/16 for the other and these kids (not all of them, thankfully)did not recognize that the fractions were the same.

My MB31 kids all passed the Math A regents, most passed it the first time around. The majority of them are juniors. They are nice kids. They are kids that, for the most part do what they are told. Their basic skills are so lacking that I fear for their future success in the next two terms of Math B. How are these kids going to work with imaginary numbers when they can't even comprehend real ones? How will they simplify expressions involving trigonometric identities and fractions when they have no clue as to how to simplify numeric ones or even have no clue as to what a fraction means? More important, what am I teaching them when I get them to reproduce what I show them and they have no real understanding of what they have been taught? How will they go on to college and succeed when their foundations are so weak? I know there are people out there that do not agree with me on calculators. These people are not dealing with the kids of today and would find it incomprehensible that their rudimentary knowledge is so weak. A building will not stand unless the foundation is strong. Calculators are useless without this foundation.

Anonymous said...

Mom, you are totally correct. calculators should not be allowed unless you the student can do the math without it. The purpose of a calculator is to get an answer quicker, not to solve the equation for you.

mathmom said...

I'm right there with you. Calculators can easily lead to atrophying numeracy skills. I have seen this as well. Numeracy is an important foundation, and needs to be practiced. Even though kids do need to learn to do things with calculators too, I think it's important to set aside lots of times when the numbers aren't too ugly and we ask kids to work without the calculators.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree. I was actually very pleased when we took the time off in our calc class to not use calculators and to solve problems using the tools our ancestors used: paper, pencil, and brains. Getting to an answer quicker is not something high school students should be concentrating on, but really learning and understanding the concept, and practicing it enough to do it in their head or on paper.

--Pink Floyd

LSquared32 said...

"We hit a wall when we got 4/8 for one slope and 8/16 for the other and these kids (not all of them, thankfully) recognized that the fractions were the same."
Do you mean didn't recognize?

Pissedoffteacher said...

Yes, I stand corrected, thanks!

17 (really 15) more years said...

My poor babies took the first math ACUITY assessment today- from doing everything with calculators, suddenly they had to do 35 problems in 35 minutes WITHOUT them. Some of the kids were practically in tears because there were a lot of computations that needed to be done in a very short period of time.

Jose Vilson said...

My friends and I were having this discussion and frankly, I couldn't compute the argument that my other friend was using. I argued, as would any math teacher, that we need the foundations to have any real success. When will people get that the most powerful calculators we have are right here in our brains?

Pissedoffteacher said...

I tutored a girl today who was working on quadratic equations. She correctly got the equation equal to zero, factored and solved. She then checked her answer with her calculator. Unfortunately, she forgot to put the -8 in parenthesis before she squared it and her check did not work. She was positive she had the wrong answer. I showed her her mistake but it took me a while to convince her to save her calculator for the hard stuff, not the stuff she can do by hand.

proofoflife said...

Thank G-d for math teachers!