Using math calculators has caused much debate over the years. Teachers have weighed in on their purpose and usefulness in the classroom. Many educators feel we should teach students how to compute without the use of technology. Others believe calculators are a part of our advancing society and students should experience using this tool. In today’s post, I’m sharing reasons why it is important to use math calculators in the classroom. I also offer some ways to challenge students with them.
The argument against using math calculators in the classroom is a curious one. Many teachers feel students will not become proficient using calculators because they are not learning to complete calculations on their own. However, is it okay for calculators to be available for use if students have demonstrated an ability to complete calculations on their own by hand?
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, NCTM, offers the following position on the role of calculators in the elementary classroom:
Calculators in the elementary grades serve as aids in advancing student understanding without replacing the need for other calculation methods. (See Below for Reference)
In addition, the Common Core State Standards for Math promote the use of math calculators. Mathematical Practice Standard 5 states, “use appropriate tools strategically.” Tools include the use of calculators. Some states include similar standards.
Why Should Math Calculators be Used in the Classroom?
1. Calculators enhance problem-solving skills. When students are fluent in math calculations, calculators help students tackle the mathematics in more challenging tasks because calculators decrease the workload and allow students to focus on the big ideas.
2. Technology is a big part of our world. Experience with these new tools is essential for students in the changing world.
3. Students love using math calculators. It’s a great way to engage students and increase interest in a task.
4. Calculators are accurate and can help students find mistakes. Allow students to check their work with them from time to time.
As mentioned earlier, calculators are great critical thinking tools. With this in mind, I have three calculator challenges to share with you that can be used to challenge your students.
A. The Broken Calculator Challenge: Students are given the following: Some of the keys on a calculator have been damaged and no longer work. Use the remaining keys to determine how to get different values. For example, students use the digits 2 and 3, the addition and/or multiplication sign, and the equal sign to make 8.
B. Calculator Challenges: This task is a wonderful place value activity! For this task, students represent place value in numbers. Using the calculator, students determine how to fix a mistake, check the answer, and make adjustments as necessary. After completing the task, students can justify the changes they made. For example, students are given the following: Brandi wanted to enter the number 4265 into her calculator. By mistake, she typed 4165. Without clearing her calculator, how can she fix her mistake?
C. Target Number: This is another great place value task and a great opportunity for math talk! Students represent place value in numbers. Using the calculator, students determine how to adjust the original number and check the answer. For example, students are given the following: Start with the number 7,254. What number can you subtract that will result in a 0 in the hundreds column?
Math calculators are important math tools, so it’s important we use them. But, I want to encourage you to be intentional with their use. Try starting with one of the challenges above!
Free Resource Alert! Want a printable download of the challenges? I created a free resource with a full page of tasks for each challenge. Grab your freebie here or use the form below.
Sound Off! How do you use math calculators in the classroom? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
NCTM Reference: https://www.nctm.org/Standards-and-Positions/Position-Statements/Calculator-Use-in-Elementary-Grades/
CCSSM Reference: http://www.corestandards.org/Math/Practice/