Is Mathematical Learning Hampered By Calculators?

Written by Aleeza Lubin, Director
My Learning Springboard

Technology is a funny thing. We marvel at what computers allow us to accomplish. We praise things like social media for the way it promotes connections and increased learning. But where does technology hamper us?  Have you ever wished you could turn back the technological clock?  A school district in Virginia is doing just that, by looking to ban calculators in key math tests.  It might seem controversial to some, and it just might be the only way to reverse a dangerous trend.

As a high school math teacher I wished we could turn back the technological clock every day. My students always came into class expecting to learn cool tricks with their calculators. They wanted to know what all those curved graphs were about. I appreciated their excitement, but every year I faced the same problem – they lacked basic arithmetic skills.  How is it possible that a whole group of students could enter high school and NOT have the fundamentals under control?  I’m referring to basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division of whole numbers, integers, and fractions.

The answer may very well lie on our technological friend – the calculator. Over the last few decades, many schools and districts have increased reliance on calculators in order to integrate technology and accelerate instruction. Unfortunately, that has left us with whole grades of children who lack a strong mathematical foundation, and they are lost without a calculator to assist them in basic arithmetic.

Why not follow the lead of Virginia?  Let’s make sure that our children don’t advance unless they master the basics. Would you allow an entire grade of students to move ahead to high school if they couldn’t read on their own?  Or write the alphabet?  Not likely. So why has it become socially acceptable for a 15-year-old to say they can’t add 1/2 and 1/3?  Removing the calculator crutch will likely shed light on some serious issues in certain schools. We must be focused on helping students to successfully think, process, and solve problems for themselves in addition to being skilled at using technology purposefully.

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