Over the years, calculators have evolved from basic four function tools to powerful thinking machines. Some individuals may say that calculators need to develop even more to aid students taking challenging courses. However, other individuals believe that the challenges in any class need to force the student to grow.
So why then, do calculators continue to evolve? Do calculators really need more features than the average cell phone? Are calculators changing to match the demanding needs of students that are growing too reliant on them?
For Alanna Sparrow, a sophomore nursing major from St. Augustine, it is not a matter of dependence but more a matter of convenience.
“I’m not completely helpless without my calculator, it just makes life easier,” said Sparrow, 19. “It’s just a method of answering questions faster.”
This seems to hold true for most students. In classes where time is always a factor and speed is key, a calculator is a valuable tool. A study at Vanderbilt University showed that a calculator is only useful at the college level for students with a “strong foundation in basic skills.”
Some professors do not have a problem with calculators in the classroom, arguing that their students wouldn’t be where they are without basic math skills. Professor Sue Corsale, a FAMU professor of math for 12 years, said that a calculator is only a tool, not a thinking machine.
“In the world we live in today, you have to know what you’re doing, even more so at the college level,” Corsale said. ” A calculator definitely helps.”
Of course, some students believe their calculator is a magic thinking machine. Turning to their calculator for the most basic of functions, some students like 17-year-old freshman journalism major, Denecah Nickerson, has problems with confidence because of calculators. Some students don’t believe the answer they generate on their own is correct, so they waste valuable time double-checking their answers.
“It can always slow you down,” said Nickerson, a native of Houston, Texas. “I know from personal experience that second guessing yourself can waste time.”
Some students do not need to worry about slowing themselves down by double-checking answers or second-guessing themselves. For many students, the answer that comes up on the screen of the calculator is their first and only guess. Sophomore accounting student Sherrian Williams, 19 from Miami, has no problems with punching in an equation and accepting whatever answer appears.
“I can even take notes in my calculator so I use it all the time,” Williams said. “Without it, I’d be lost in class even though the basics are easy.”
So are calculators helping or hurting students? Is a generation of tech-savvy students losing basic calculation skills, or are the demands of a challenging curriculum worthy of the high-end machines students purchase?
The general opinion seems to be as long as a student remembers the calculator is only as smart as the person using it, then they aren’t harmful.