Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Push Button Generation

On Monday, the Casio man came to town. He spent a period enthralling us with the wonders of the Casio 9570GA Plus calculator. These things are amazing. They do everything except wipe your rear end. Passing math should be a snap. All you have to do is push a few buttons and abracadabra, the answer appears on the screen.

Well, it is not as easy as all that. We were shown how to solve an equation and all six math teachers in the room ended up with six different answers, none of which were correct.

Now, I am proud to say that I am not against the use of a calculator in the math class. By eliminating some of the tedium of arithmetic, more complex, thinking problems can be tackled. There are problems that cannot be solved by hand and the calculator is a necessary tool. (We came across many such problems in calculus.) The calculator should be used to enhance learning, not replace it.

I have a feeling that this calculator will not be difficult to use once I am used to it. I remember my frustrations when I began on the TI-83 but once I learned to use the menu, I became a pro. I am certain I can do the same on this. What I am not so certain of is that my students will be able to become a pro. There are just too many buttons to press and too many steps to go through before the answer can be found. I know that the kids will eventually get this, but by then we have wasted valuable class time teaching them button pushing skills and their math skills will still be lacking.

I might be old fashioned but I have a problem having kids using a matrix on the calculator to solve systems of equations when they have no idea as to what a matrix is or does. They are pushing buttons with no understanding. I taught the same thing in a college class but it was only after we had done several by hand and understood how they worked and what they could be used for did we use the calculator and the computer. And, finding zeros using Newton's method is absurd. The kids should at least have a little understanding of what is going on before they hit the buttons. True, my calculus classes are better students, but I never go over the root button without first explaining iterations to them.

Many of students are graduating high school and attending the local community college. They place out of remedial math by scoring a 75 or better on the Math A or Integrated Math regents. Lots of them can do this. I'm guilty of teaching a whole class of students how to pass the exam without really knowing anything. I'm guilty of sending these button pushers on to failure in college. I'm guilty of doing what my supervisors wanted me to do without thinking about what was best for my students. (I really tried to teach them the math. Some actually learned a good part of it. They all passed the regents and most got over a 75. Most of them did not learn any more than how to pass an exam.)

My department is complaining about the Casio, complaining because they have to learn to use a new calculator. It's sad. They waste so much energy on nonsense. Instead they should be arguing about how the calculator should be used and what the kids should be taught to do on it.

One more comment on this topic, but you will have to read it here.

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