Addressing Myths and Fears About Using Calculators (page 2)
The lingering opposition to calculators is largely based on misinformation. Myths and fears about students not learning because of using calculators still persist, even in the face of evidence to the contrary.
Myth: If Kids Use Calculators, They Won't Learn the "Basics"
Every advocate of calculator use must make it clear to parents that basic fact mastery and flexible computational skills, including mental computation, remain important goals of the curriculum. By and large, research has demonstrated that the availability of calculators has no negative effect on traditional skills (NRC, 2001). Although the eighth NAEP assessment data suggest a decrease in achievement for fourth graders who use calculators either weekly or every day, it is important to note that the same data also show that only 5 percent of teachers report everyday calculator use and only 21 percent report weekly use (http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/mathematics/results). Moreover, evidence from a meta-analysis of calculator use shows a slight negative effect of calculators among fourth graders but not among students of any other grade (NRC, 2001). This may be an artifact of conditions specific to those studies of calculator use that included fourth graders. Most important, the performance of tedious by-hand computations does not involve thinking or reasoning or solving problems. Employers want employees who can think and solve novel problems.
Myth: Calculators Make Students Lazy
Almost no mathematical thinking is involved in doing routine computations by hand. People who use calculators when solving problems are, therefore, using their intellect in more important ways--reasoning, conjecturing, testing ideas, and solving problems. When used appropriately, calculators enhance learning; they do not get in the way of learning.
Myth: Students Should Learn the "Real Way" Before Using Calculators
Following rules for pencil-and-paper computation does little to help students understand the ideas behind them. A glaring example is the invert-and-multiply method for division of fractions. Few parents and elementary teachers can explain why this method makes sense. And yet they all had extensive practice with that technique. To one degree or another, the same is true of nearly all computational procedures.
It is essential to point out that by-hand techniques are not to be totally abandoned and that introductory explorations are often best done without a calculator. The teacher must play a role in setting the necessary explorations in the classroom.
Myth: Students Will Become Overly Dependent on Calculators
Calculators kept from students are like forbidden fruit. When finally allowed to use them, students often use them for the simplest of tasks. Teachers in the upper grades often complain that students are using their calculators all the time.
It is essential that mastery of basic facts, mental computation, and some attention to by-hand techniques continue to be requirements for all students. In lessons in which these skills are the objective, the calculator should simply be off limits. When students learn these essential noncalculator skills, they rarely use the calculator inappropriately. Furthermore, if the calculator is always available for appropriate uses, students learn when and how to use it wisely.
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