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Should Calculators Be Used in School or in Home Schooling?

Updated on May 29, 2015

Graphing Calculator

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Should Calculators Be Used in School or in Home Schooling?

Making a decision on a graphing calculator is important. Will a student use one, or not? If one is allowed, which one is the one recommended?. Are any not allowed? If home schooling, what do you need a lesson to accomplish? Is a calculator a useful tool, or is it a hindrance to further development? These are important questions that must be answered. It is my hope that the rest of this lens will be of assistance in answering these questions.

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Should a Lower Grade Student Be Made Calculator Dependent?

There is a temptation from those not involved with where learning how to calculate is taking students. We must look ahead and see if the calculator is really serving the student. Let’s consider a simple example. A student needs to add fractions. A Graphing Calculator can do that. But, the student who becomes totally calculator dependent fails to understand the process. So what? Well, in a higher class that student may need to add a/b + c/d. There cease to be numbers. If a person has become completely calculator dependent there is a problem. But new material requires time and effort, so catching up with what should have been learned earlier is difficult, and can lead to discouragement.

Calculators Have Great Power

A Graphing Calculator probably can solve equations, and even systems of equations. They can do much more than graphing. There are times and places for these powerful devices, but it is not in every classroom. Once a student has shown proficiency in the basics, and only then, should a calculator be used to assist with number crunching.

Symbolic Calculators

A symbolic calculator is something like a TI-89. These calculators not only can solve equations, they can use radical symbols in the answers. They also can use the symbol for pi, and so on. They give answers symbolically.

Symbolic calculators can factor, perform most algebra, and even handle most calculus. If one is developing a mental skill, these powerful devices may be inappropriate.

Are they ever appropriate? Yes. I teach college mathematics and college physics. Occasionally, I get contract work from publishing companies. I can solve a calculus problem ten times faster using a symbolic calculator, and it does not make careless errors, so I use one. But when I studied calculus I was not able to do so. They are tools, but one must first earn the right to use the tools.

Why Do Some Mathematicians Refuse to Allow Calculators in College Classes?

This is because the purpose in learning mathematics is not really about solving problems. True, you can do arithmetic with a calculator, and you may think that should be sufficient. But the reason one studies mathematics in college is to develop a thought process. Mathematics requires different thinking skills from many other subjects, and that thought process is necessary to claim a college degree. So, not only is the use of a calculator often denied, but one should not really ask

What Calculator Should I Get?

It depends on the class. Ask the instructor. The TI-83 and TI-84 are good utility calculators for students. They are user friendly, something not necessarily so with TI-85 and TI-86 calculators.

When I bought my first calculator the TI-84 and TI-86 were not yet available. I called TI and was told the TI-85 was not the way to go, since it had little advantage except for some features needed only by physicists. As a physicists I was inclined to ignore the advice, so writing from experience the TI-83 or TI-84 is much better for general use. That is my opinion.

Do you use a graphing calculator?

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TI-84 or TI-86?

It depends on the class. Ask the instructor. The TI-83 and TI-84 are good utility calculators for students. They are user friendly, something not necessarily so with TI-85 and TI-86 calculators.

The difference between the TI-83 and the TI-84 is memory. The TI-84 is better for data harvesting in statistics. Also, the ability to link to a computer does not require an additional purchase.

Other Brands

Casio, HP, and Sharp all make graphing calculators, but TI got there and claimed most of the market. Examples in textbooks are more likely to be written for TI calculators. Also, many teachers own TI products, so you can get help faster.

CBLs

Teachers can get calculators that can project onto a board. These calculators can be connected to CBL units to show speed, temperature, force, and so on. Calculators can become demonstration devices well beyond the calculations they can make alone.

Do you have an opinion? Sure you do. Tell us what it is.

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    • TransplantedSoul profile image

      TransplantedSoul 5 years ago

      Back in the day I was one of the early adopters of the HP41C programmables. It was an amazing machine for the time. I learned a lot from it. Nowadays, most of my complex stuff ends up in Excel.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      This is a good topic to bring up. It is good to know how to use a calculator and to know how to do math without one. I think students should be taught both methods. Great lens. God bless!

    • CruiseReady profile image

      CruiseReady 5 years ago from East Central Florida

      I think it is fine for children to learn to use calculators, but terribly important to also learn to do math functions with theior actual brains.... the untimate calculators.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image

      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      I think we have to embrace the modern world without losing the benefits of the old. Babies and bathwater come to mind.