Hand-held calculators are 40 years old, reports the Washington Post.
Educators are deadlocked over whether calculators are helping create a more numerate society capable of claiming the next technological breakthrough or making students technology-dependent and mathematically insecure.
The United States lags in international math exams. Top performers, including Singapore and China, put more emphasis on mental math and memorization and introduce calculators to the curriculum later than the United States does, said Tom Loveless, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, who has researched how calculators affect student achievement.
Calculator defenders say students can skip “repetitive, drill-based learning” in favor of “creativity and curiosity.”
“We can jump past the grunt work and get to more sophisticated levels of analysis,” said James M. Rubillo, executive director of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Even NCTM, which recommends using calculators in kindergarten, now says students should learn “mental math” skills.
I once tutored a student who could calculate rapidly in his head but had trouble understanding math concepts. His response to any problem was to multiply every number in sight, because that he could do. I never came across a kid who could understand concepts but couldn’t add or multiply without a calculator. Are there such students?