Since becoming a teacher, I have been told that calculators are tools that are essential for the education of today's kids and are meant to be used liberally. The kids have been taught the same doctrine, and they have been trained to use their calculators for tests and classroom work from an early grade. Now, we received word that the state has prohibited the use of calculators on most parts of the all important state test. They made the change in December. The state test will be administered at the end of April. Many of my students are unable to work confidently without the use of a calculator, and this sudden change puts me in a real bind. Any suggestions?

Change their mindset. Personally, I find calculators to be a crutch that inhibits student learning in the long run. Calculators won't tell you the LCD of three numbers, and they really won't tell you a factor of a polynomial. Most are incapable of computing using scientific notation beyond a certain point, and all but the most high end ones can't handle symbols such as Pi and e. In order to find these things, the student must have first learned to be able to find these sorts of things with simpler concepts. Aside from my personal feelings on calculators, you need to change their thinking. They've had it ingrained into them that they can't do these things without calculators (another rant, but we won't go there). It's your job to convince them that the best calculator ever is the one between their ears. Students who rely on calculators learn to not rely on their brain. They convince themselves that they can't do it. Convince them they can. When I get a new group of students, regardless of age or level, I immediately ban calculators. I have regular mad minute excercises, and have a reward for certain levels of success. They ALWAYS complain at first, but after a few weeks, when they realize they CAN do it, they gain more confidence. I've had many students realize that they can do the math faster without the calculator now that they know their math facts and are confident with them. Good luck!

One of my favorite quotes from teaching Princeton Review test-prep classes: Anyone writing any kind of standardized test isn't doing it to see how well students can plug numbers into a machine.

I agree completely. And it KILLS me to see kids in elementary and middle school using calculators. mm was right as to what you can do at this late date. Change the mindset, and help them to regain all those skills they're SUPPOSED to have.

Here is an interesting post by a high school English teacher: http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2008/07/math-meltdown.html

I think part of it is that students don't realize how much math they do without a calculator. If you have access to past test questions, I would have students help you separate some into ones they would answer without a calculator and ones with a calculator to point out just how much they already do on their own. Then start practicing problems without the calculator. I don't know about your state test, but ours is multiple choice. I spend time with students helping them work through narrowing down their answer to two choices just by using their number sense.

Calculators can be a powerful tool in later grades but unfortunately they become a crutch for most students Students that have become overly dependent on their calculator have little to no number sense. I make my students show their work and then and only then can they use their calculator to check their answers. I also let them use their calculator to do more complex calculations.

I'm not fond of calculators even in High School. My college students are always astounded and amazed that I can whip out a rough sketch of nearly any one or two variable function just by looking at it (some of the complex ones take some scratch paper). With the "vanilla flavored" functions, this is easy, and knowledge of those makes the more complex ones almost as easy. Students learn to type functions into a calculator and are deprived of the opportunity to really learn how they work. I never used a calculator in my own education, except in statistics courses. I have a BS and an MS in Mathematics, so that's a LOT of calculator free math courses.

I definitely believe calculators have become a crutch for kids at all levels and it keeps them from developing even basic math skills on their own. Our students were allowed to use calculators during my internship, but the amount of laziness and lack of knowledge I saw was astounding. Students would even use the calculator to simplify fractions. Even worse, our calculators had a fraction-to-decimal key. When we worked on fractions, students would just use that key and didn't know how to find the decimal equivalent any other way. Even with a calculator, they had a hard time figuring out they needed to divide the numerator by the denominator. My math skills aren't as advanced as mmswm's, but I also amazed my students that I could often add number in my head faster than they could punch them into the calculator. I completely agree calculators should be banned for a large part of the classwork and then used only to check work or do more complicated calculations.

Tell those kids they can do it! I'd have to shake the dust off my calculators and find them. I detest the use of them in elementary school. I think mmswm & I must have come from the same 'ole school. My 25 y.o. daughter used them throughout her school life and is basically crippled with out a calclator. I didn't know at the time she was using one so much or I'd banned her from using one.

I gave extra help today in Precalc to one of the Seniors in my study hall. There are over 200 kids there, and he's not in my section, so all I know about him is that he takes Precalculus. He was graphing a polynomial function, and having to average groups of 2 roots (to find their midpoint.) He averaged .2 and 2.4, and got something like 3.1. The same thing happened with 2 other pairs of numbers. He said that was the answer the calculator gave him. I said that the average had to be somewhere between the two numbers you're given-- he hadn't even thought of that!

Unfortunately, that happens all to often, Alice. The kids stop thinking and just write down what the calculator tells them. They don't have enough of an understanding to even answer the question "does the calculator answer make sense?" I'm soooooo anti calculator.

me too. And I'm in the right building. When I was department chair, the administration decided, with my input, that no one uses a calculator until we hit the Trig chapter in Geometry. That means our 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th graders have to think all on their own, and our 10th graders still haven't used them. (I told my kids to ask Santa for the calculators for Christmas; we'll hit trig in a few weeks.) Even our Precalc kids use a normal scientific calculator (Hence the need to find the relative mins and maxes when graphing a polynomial function.) They learn WHY the function does what it does, not just what keys to push. We do have a class set of graphing calculators for Calc.

I think it is absurd that your state has decided to prohibit the use of calculators midyear. Had teachers known before the start of school they could have entered the year prepared to better prepare the students.

In my school the kids in Precalc use the graphing calcs for everything, they don't know how to graph ANYTHING by hand. Not a single function. This trimester I'm teaching Algebra II and you better believe there will be no graphing calculators in my class.

Yes, I completely agree. The decision to make a change NOW midyear when the exam is 4 months away is truly inconsiderate and unfair to the kids. There is nothing that we (and many other middle school math teachers in NJ) can do about it. We need to adapt and work with the situation. :unsure:

Yes! I agree that kids should be able to do math without calculators, but to change midyear is unfair. What are other schools doing? Any thoughts from your district math supervisor or someone similar?