Most students remember the little, blue, solar-powered calculators with the red and white buttons used in grade school. The teacher would pass them out to use for a worksheet assignment or standardized test.
Back then students probably didn’t think it was out of the ordinary to see only those calculators a few times during the school year. Now, fast-forward to today’s school curriculum and students see more advanced calculators with all the nifty functions they can do. They can solve most math problems and statistical formulas.
A calculator application is often found on most smartphones. With calculator technology at students’ fingertips, does this help them in the classroom or does it work to their disadvantage?
“I believe that answer is two-fold,” said Robert Gilmer, a former math professor at Florida State University. “I recommend having students learn the basics of math such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and long division. Everything is digitized today.”
For more than 40 years, calculators have been a staple in the classrooms. The small, electronic machine was invented to perform basic math problems more quickly and accurately.
Calculators have played different roles with students over the past four decades. They have gone from being barely used to being used on a daily basis in the classroom. Different generations have varying opinions on what role calculators played in their math education.
“I feel that students are too dependent on calculators,” said Tiffany Poston, a post-graduate history student from Panama City Beach. “I know people who can’t do basic math. I just use them to check for accuracy, not for basic stuff.”
There is no way to know if people not knowing basic math is a result of being too dependent on calculators or if this has become the acceptable teaching standard in today’s math classes. Studies show that students need to have a strong foundation in basic math skills before introducing the calculator. Students should be encouraged to demonstrate what they already know.
“When I was in school, the digital calculator was just coming into the picture,” said Jerry Jones, a class of 1983 FAMU alumnus. “We had to do all of our math on paper.”
In more advanced math classes today, professors are teaching students to memorize the sequence of data input to type into calculators to solve the complex equations. This particular method is used in most statistics and algebra courses, and even liberal arts.
“When I was in school, the calculator was our ten fingers and mind,” said Sylvia Kelley, the grandmother of a FAMU student. “I think memorization needs to be encouraged for basic math.”
As technology advances and teaching styles change, there will always be some sort of calculator in the classroom. However, It’s up to the students to determine if the calculator will be a crutch for them or a checking point for the work they’ve already done.