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Mathematics
November 2012
Volume 1, Issue 1
Calculators—
Yes or No?
Zalman Usiskin, Editor
Inside this Issue
1
2
2
2
3
Calculators—Yes or
No?
Throw Away The
Pencils
Who Needs
Calculators Anyway?
What Are Other
People Saying About
Calculator Use?
Research Says…
Ever since an affordable, hand-held
calculator became available in the early
1980s there has been controversy about
its use in the classroom. In the
beginning, it was not much
of an issue since calculators
were so expensive, but
today a student can obtain
one for a mere dollar at the
local discount store.

“How important are speed and
accuracy with paper-and-pencil
when a calculator is usually
faster and more accurate?”

“What becomes obsolete
because of the existence of
calculators?”
Should Have—Shouldn’t
Have
Today, most high-school
students are required to
have a graphing calculator.
Some classrooms even have
calculators for the class to
use. Furthermore, a
calculator is required on
many college-entrance
exams. But the same does
not hold true for students in
elementary school. The jury is still out
in regards to whether these students
should be allowed to use a calculator.
Questions Arise
Deby Shipman
ED 498 Instructional Technology
Monday Night Class
MUW, Columbus, MS 39701
Focus
The question of whether calculator use
should or shouldn’t be allowed raises
many questions.

“What new understandings, if
any, can arise from calculator
use, and what understandings,
if any, may be lost?”
These questions and more will be
examined in this newsletter. We will
also discuss many other issues
concerning the calculator and its use in
today’s classrooms.
References:
Mathematics Education Dialogues
May/June 1999, Vol. 2, Issue 3
(Continued on page 3)
Throw Away
The Pencils
taught to use mental math for one- and
two-digit calculations. For all other
calculations, the students should be
by Anthony Ralston
In this age of technological
advancement, do students really need to
learn to do mathematic equations using
pencil and paper? “I propose that the
elementary school mathematics
curriculum should not attempt to
achieve any level of proficiency
whatever in pencil-and-paper
arithmetic.”
Why do I say this? Even though
American students always make a poor
showing at international competitions
the fact remains that it is not because
they have not been taught the math, they
have just taught incorrectly. I purpose
that students from kindergarten all the
way up through high-school should be
taught the correct procedures for using a
calculator.
When students are taught the correct
way to use a calculator they can develop
a much higher level of number sense
and symbol sense. It is the lack of
technique that stands in the way of
students becoming proficient in
calculator use, thereby
doing away with
pencil-and-paper
mathematics.
The only thing
standing in the way of
this educational
upheaval is teacher
resistance. When
educators decide to
make the change, and
keep up with today’s
current technology,
there will be a
noticeable difference in mathematics
test scores. We must advance to a
curriculum that is “calculator-andmental-arithmetic-based.”
What Are Your Thoughts?
Send us your questions and feedback.
Email [email protected]
Who Needs Calculators Anyway?
by Kim Mackey
Calculators Only Produce Answers
Students in K-6 do not need to use a calculator. This is the age when the
student needs to be focusing on the experience of writing expressions, not
merely finding the solution. They do not need to be turned into mindless, “blackbox” button pushing zombies who never learn how to solve a “two-step
problem.”
Damage Done by Calculator Use

Mathematic expressions lose meaning.

Number manipulation that written equation solving provides.

Loss of writing an expression that others will understand.

Movement from “solving simple problems” to just getting to the answer.

Students lose that ability to write and equation.
The Solution
Calculators and computers have a place in mathematics and the mathematics
What Are Other People
Saying About Calculator
Use?
by Cynthia Ballheim, For the Editorial
Panel
Our Editorial Panel fished for answers
to the question of when or even
SHOULD calculators be used in the
mathematics classroom. Teachers from
all over the country responded. Out of
180 responses to the question of when a
calculator should be allowed in a
classroom, 69 respondents said they
should be allowed after kindergarten.
Read on to see what other about the
issue of Calculators In The Classroom.
classroom. But that place is not simply to teach the student that the answer is
always the ultimate goal. We should not promote the use of calculator
technology simply to stay “on the cutting edge of the mathematics reform
movement.” What needs to be done is to help teachers and instructors
understand that calculator use should not be a substitute for the student using
their own minds to actively solve a problem.
“There needs to be a balance between
mental, paper, and calculator work.”
Cyndy Montes
Grad 8 Teacher, New Jersey
What Other People Are
Saying…(cont. from page 2)
“Calculators are tools that students
need to know how to use.”
Janice James
Grades 1-3 Teacher, Kentucky
“It is important that children develop
math sense and understand the
reasonableness of an answer.”
June Lange Prewitt
Kindergarten Teacher, Missouri
“A waste of my time. NCTM should
concentrate on promoting qualified
math teachers in all classrooms and
less on this nonsense.”
David Detje, FSC
Grade 7 Teacher, New York
“To educate math students without
calculators and computers is to
deprive them of a rich experience in
References
(continued from page 1)
Usiskin, Z., Groping and hoping for a
consensus on calculator use.
(Cover Page).
Ralston, A., Let’s abolish pencil-andpaper arithmetic. p. 2.
Mackey, K., Do we need calculators?.
p. 3.
Ballheim, C., How our readers feel
about calculators. p. 4-5.
Dessart, D.J., DeRidder, C.M., &
Ellington, A.J. The research
backs calculators. p. 6
complex problem solving. However,
two things must be remembered.
First, basic skills such as mental
calculations and pencil-and-paper
calculations must be developed and
maintained. Second, teachers must
receive training so they become
calculator literate before calculators
are used in the classroom.”
Holt Zaugg
Grades 7-12
Teacher, Alberta,
Canada
“Calculators
allow for the
exploration of
number patterns
and use of realworld data. Calculators are part of
everyday life. We cheat students if
they are not allowed to use them.”
Lucy Hahn
Grade 2 Teacher, Idaho
Research Says…
by D.J. Dessart, C.M. DeRidder, & A.J.
Ellington
The technological importance of the
calculator cannot be lauded enough.
“Schools have the duty to provide
instruction for the appropriate and
effective use of [them].” Research has
proven that the calculator should play
an everyday part in the development of
math concepts and computations skills.
1992 Report by Hembree and
Dessart
In a research project that consisted of
eighty-eight different studies, Ray
Hembree and Donald J. Dessart found
that when compared to students who
were not allowed to use calculators
those who were allowed did not suffer
from any lack of computational nor
conceptual skills. The study further
showed that those students who were
allowed to use a calculator had a much
Mathematics Focus 3
better attitude towards mathematics.
These students also had a greater
respect for themselves for being
successful at math.
An Asset, Not A Hindrance
In a study conducted from 1984-1995,
and published in 1997 by Brian A.
Smith, the conclusion was that students
who used a
calculator
“had a
positive effect
on increasing
conceptual
knowledge.”
It was not
only in highschool or
college level, but though out all grade
levels that this effect was perceived.
Smith concluded that the use of a
calculator “did not hinder the
development of pencil-and-paper skill.”
In the project Calculators in Primary
Mathematics (funded by the Australian
Research Council and the University of
Melbourne) is was found that students
who used calculators showed “no
detrimental effects.”
What Is The School’s Role?
Curricular renovations and teacher
education are going to play an important
role in the integration of calculators into
all grade levels. It is important, in this
age of technological advancement, that
students have the ability to use every
and all tools available to enhance their
educational experience. The use of the
calculator is one tool that, when put in
the right hands for instruction and made
available for to students, will make a
positive change in our mathematical
educational system. It is the obligation
of the school to allow students the use
of this powerful tool as an essential part
of mathematics education.
Send Your Comments To:
[email protected]
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