What is the role of calculators in education?

There are a few important arguments against the usage of scientific calculators in the education field. Let’s have a look at those arguments and see how they hold up to scrutiny.

Do calculators truly act as crutches for lazy students?

Like any other tool, calculators can only do what you make them do. Exactly as using a hammer does not reflect directly on a carpenter’s skill, utilising calculators does not mean a student is lacking in their application. These technologies allow students to manage problems of greater depth and complexity than ever before, tasks that most students would not be able to resolve previously.

Do calculators take away the challenge of maths, making students disinterested in the subject?

Some argue that the right usage of calculators generates the exact opposite reaction. One clear benefit of a calculator that can’t be denied is that it speeds up the whole learning process. When students have mastered the technique, they do not have to spend so much time applying it each time. With a calculator they can resolve problems focusing on the same concept in a fraction of time, in total contrast to the former method of repetitively performing over and over the same function.

A study into the impact of calculators in maths from 1986 seems to back up this hypothesis. According to certain studies, the integration of calculators into instruction of algebra, not only improved the achievement level of students in the course. But it enhanced students’ overall attitude towards maths, resulting in clearly better test results and an increased ability to problem solving using math concepts.

If calculators were not needed 50 years ago, why are they required now?

The computers used to put us on the moon fifty years ago for the first time weren’t more powerful than a modern regular calculator. Back in 1969, over 3500 IBM engineers were needed to constantly monitor the systems processes to guarantee no fatal errors happened. Today a very small percentage of these numbers are needed, since we have advanced computers able to perform those very same functions far more rapidly, and more accurately. There is of course a reason why NASA decided to upgrade to better technology, and the very same reason applies to education as well.

Today, education has gone beyond the constraints of pen and paper. Students and children are able to explore math theories far beyond the reach of previous generations. Technology is completely enmeshed in several aspects of our lives, so to ignore its significance in favour of traditional old-school teaching methods, deprives children of a fundamental portion of their education.

By teaching students how to use their calculators, teachers help kids to understand the benefits as well as limitations of the technology they utilise; letting them to optimise their tools for the best usage.

Outside school

It is imperative to keep in mind that it is not just mathematics; calculators have function beyond teaching. Everyone from physicists to engineers, to architects and accountants make extensive use of calculators and other calculating devices, in fact most of us used our own Casio calculator when we were young, to help with regular tasks. As a matter of fact, at the highest level of research a misplaced decimal point or a miscalculation can have totally disastrous results.

When the stakes are this high and thin margins are at play, professionals prefer to trust their own math, to calculators that have the ability to manage large strings of numbers. Keep in mind that these are individuals with many years of education under their belt, and they need to make use of calculating tools to aid them in their jobs.

Just as with other technological tools the advantages and disadvantages of calculators are based completely on how they are used. If used properly under te right supervision, they can provide students and children with a wealth of learning opportunities. If on the contrary kids are not taught how to use these calculators, many of the criticisms about their effectiveness, will start to ring true.

One solution could be to potentially limit the usage of calculators in students’ daily lives, and instead trying a digital or online calculator that can perform the same functions as a physical one, but without inspiring the reliance that handheld instruments do.


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