Now They Tell Us: Calculators Bad For Kid's Math Skills
from the too-late-now dept
There was a big controversy decades ago about whether or not calculators should be allowed in the classroom (similar to the "computers in the classroom" debate today). After a number of studies showed that calculators actually helped the debate pretty much died down. Now, however, years later, along comes another study saying that calculators may harm math skills. Of course, the study seems quite narrow - looking at how well kids who normally used calculators could subtract, multiply and divide showed they had a lot more trouble doing those things without the calculator. I'm not sure how surprising or enlightening this is. Since they don't get much practice doing such simple calculations, it may not be the easiest thing for them to do right away. That doesn't mean that their overall math skills are necessarily worse. In fact, the point of earlier studies was that the calculators let them do more advanced math sooner, which meant they often enjoyed math a lot more. So, the question is whether or not you need to master the basic math questions when you can just use a calculator (or computer) to do that work for you, so you can concentrate on more complicated ideas? I have mixed opinions on this one. There is something about having an understanding of the fundamentals that seems useful, because it helps you solve unfamiliar problems by breaking it down. Still, if you're always going to have access to a calculator, is it really as necessary?