Thursday, June 7, 2012

Technology...How Far is Too Far?

I am new to this blogging thing, but I kind of like getting to read what others are saying and maybe people will be interested in what I have to say as well!

I felt I could take this opportunity to talk about my BIGGEST pet-peeve when teaching math.

THE CALCULATOR! .. (and now the dreaded smart phone with a built in calculator)

Calculators were not invented so that all people could shut off their brains.  They are a useful tool that should be used to enhance math, not remove all logic from people's brains.  I had students in grade 6 that could not subtract 10-1 without asking to use a calculator ....

Most simple math problems can be solved using logic and a variety of tools we have been taught in our lives.  When I was growing up I had a teacher that did not allow calculators in her classroom.  If there was division that needed to be done, you did old fashioned longg division or you tried to think of a way to simplify the problem to make it easier to figure out.  Now, I know this sounds extreme but this has helped me soooo much in my life.  I am able to add, subtract, multiply, and divide numbers quickly when I am given a problem, calculate tax on a price when I am at the store, break up large problems into smaller ones, I never get too much or too little pizza because that teacher made me a wiz with fractions, and I never get the wrong change at a store because I can easily work it out just as fast (usually faster) than the lady can punch in the numbers.


  1. I agree with you that developing the math skills without the use of the calculator helps so much later in life. Back in high school (eons ago) I worked at the old city market downtown. Even though we had a cash register, it was too busy, you had to calculate the total in your head and get the money from the customer, then go to the cash register (just to make change). To this day, I think I can multiply 99 cents by just about anything! An experience in my life that makes me crazy-and I partly blame on the over reliance on calculators and cash registers, happened at a fast food restuarant. My total was $4.27. I handed the clerk a $5 bill. She accidentaly punched in $50. She was then PARALYZED! She didn't know what to do. Being honest, I said, "I know that I only handed you a five. You only owe me 73 cents not $45.73" She wanted to call the manager over to help her because the cash registers "thinks I put in $50." Yes she really said that the cash register thinks! Again I tried to help by explaining that as long as she gave me the correct change she would still only have $4.27 extra in her till. She was completely dumbfounded and called the manager over to help her! I was so disgusted, I almost left without my change, I just couldn't handle the situation any longer without saying something completely insulting. I think by relying so heavily on an instrument to do calculations for you, people just shut their brains off and stop thinking all together. It really won't help them in the long run!

    1. Wow Jessica, what an interesting experience. While I work part-time in a local cafe where I live, I have made that mistake many times (wrongly inputting the amount they gave me) and have had to calculate the difference myself. Or, they give me a bill, and I input it, and then they decide to give me the change amount (to make less coin return) but then I have to re-calculate. You're write, as long as you give the correct amount back, then that's all that matters. Whatever amount you input doesn't matter, as long as the amount they should have given is now in the till.
      Anyway, Jenn - you seem very passionate about this and it is out of experience. I never experienced NOT being allowed a calculator, but I do understand the concept and the reason behind it. While I volunteer with special education students this year, the amount of times the students just want to use the calculator to solve their problem...but yet they do not know how to even use it properly! When they could have drawn out the problem and figured it out that way. Calculators do have it's benefits, but sometimes it goes too far and there is too much of a reliance. Not a tough subject to talk about, as everyone has their own opinion - but thank you for sharing.

  2. I do agree, Jessica, that there is a real need for mental mathematics and paper pencil calculating. Each of us could do a little better in this department, despite our acquired skill level. That being said, it is important to remember that mental mathematics are only a piece of what makes a good mathematician. We obviously need to be able to perform certain calculations in our head so that we can survive life without being ripped off, or, as you stated, receiving more than our share, but I think that the emphasis switch has been healthy overall for our students. I feel that the shift from paper/pencil and mental calculations to conceptual understanding has been beneficial for our students and they are likely to better understand the big ideas, where our generation could rattle off the formula. We did not always understand why we used the formula, other than because the teacher told us to.