On the Irascible Professor’s site, guest commenter William Kohl writes about calculator dependence. He tried without success to persuade an algebra student to analyze a problem rather than graph it on his calculator.
One of the first problems was:
y = x2 + 5, if the constant 5 is changed to 1, the curve
a. does not move
b. shifts 1 unit up
c. shifts 1 unit down
d. shifts 4 units up
e. shifts 4 units down
I said, “What would you do to find the answer?” He said, “I have to get my calculator.” I said, “Why?” He said, “I need it to work the problem.”
I said, “Couldn’t we just think about the problem first? Even though it may seem hard, (as it probably did to him), perhaps we can start by finding a simpler problem inside this difficult problem.”
I was thinking of analytic strategies I had learned in math, one of the basics of which is, look for a simpler problem inside a complex one. He argued with me, and said it was necessary to have his calculator. It seemed as if he had relegated part of his thinking process to this calculator and his math brain would be incomplete with out it.
Kohl, an engineer, is a mentor to a student “on the verge of success,” which is the new esteem-guarding euphemism for “at risk,” itself a euphemism. But he can’t help describing his student as “deficient” in math understanding.