We all need and use calculators, and of course it is important for kids to learn how to use them, but how early should they be introduced in schools?
Recently when I dropped our eldest daughter at school - she showed me some of her work and I watched her calculate the total land size of Australia by adding up the land size of each individual state and territory. She did this with a calculator and her teacher did not question this.
My first thought was that when I was her age - my father (a maths teacher) would not have let me use a calculator for basic addition - I would have had to use pen and paper and work it out that way. I wanted to tell my daughter to do the same - was it just lazy to use the calculator? This daughter is 8 years old (Grade 3 at school).
It's not so much the issue of whether or not calculators should be available for kids to use - but it is whether or not they are still learning basic mathematical skills using nothing more than their brains, pencils and paper.
Progress in technology has meant that calculators have become more widely used than in previous generations. When I finished school - and took my final mathematics exams, I was allowed the use of a calculator - and I remember my parents telling me they weren't allowed calculators for their final maths exams. Does this mean that their maths skills were better than mine? Or is it just that maths education has evolved to allow for students using calculators - and so pushes them in different ways.
Students now do a large amount of their essay and report work on the computer - which has a spell check facility. They are not expected to check their spelling themselves with a dictionary. It is the same principal in maths - students can use calculators rather than having to work everything out in their heads or on paper.
In my opinion, the most important thing is to make sure that kids can do basic mathematical calculations in their heads - so they can see if the answers they obtain on the calculator is a sensible answer - it is very easy to press and extra or wrong button on the calculator so making the answer much larger or smaller than it should be.
When I see someone reaching for a calculator to work out 20 x 1, or 56 x 0 for example - I do cringe. For such simple calculations it takes longer to put the numbers into the calculator than it takes to think of the answer yourself! I believe that basic facts like times tables should still be learnt - as they are used throughout your life - and if you learn them well as a child - you should remember them for life.
I think perhaps the increased use of calculators has resulted in a lowering of basic numeracy skills which I feel is a very negative outcome. I would prefer our kids to have both excellent numeracy skills and be able to use a calculator for more advanced problems.
I recently explored the use of abacuses in other countries - and just how amazing numeracy skills can be with the use of them.
Calculators, along with many other advances in technology, have brought great benefits with them, but I think it's important that they add to our skills rather than just replace them!
Do your kids use calculators? Do you? Do you remember when you started using them in school?