## Writing Resources from *Fifteen Minutes of Fiction*

## Calculators in College

Calculators should not be banned in all college math classes. Calculators are tools that were developed by humans to help with mathematics. Advanced math classes like Pre-Calculus, Calculus, and Statistics should use calculators. The point of these classes is to teach advanced mathematics, not to teach basic arithmetic. Calculators are very useful for checking your answers and are used over a very wide area of topics. Science uses them heavily.In a recent interview, Mr. Roger Twitchell, a retired teacher of 33 years in the science and mathematics department at Oxford Hills High School, stated, “When calculators first came out all they could do was add, subtract, multiply, and divide. I didn't have a problem with using them in my classes because I wasn't teaching what they could do.” When his physics students were solving a problem he said he didn't find anything wrong with letting them use calculators.” However, now calculators can do so many more things. Now graphing calculators can do matrices, draw graphs, make tables, and much more.

“If I was trying to teach my class how to simplify two equations and they can just punch the equations into their calculators and get the answers, it doesn't do me any good. It shows that they can use the calculator, not that they can do the mathematical process,” he noted. He finds it perfectly reasonable to not allow calculators in certain parts of a course, but trying to create a blanket rule on them is pointless. It is Mr. Roger Twitchell's opinion that it is the teacher's job to teach the students and calculators should be used to supplement, not replace, the curriculum.

An interview with Mr. Brian Twitchell, a math teacher at Mount Abram High School, a math instructor for CMCC, and a teacher on the UMaine College Readiness Board, he states that: people argue that you shouldn't use technology in doing calculations. However, he points out that pencil and paper are technology. People used to have to do long division in their head. He thinks that teaching students to graph functions with a graphing calculator is like teaching multiplication by hitting the times button. Using the graphing calculators to analyze functions is different. It takes a fairly long time to graph functions by hand and if you keep changing them you need to graph each one differently.

At an interview with Professor A. Bailey, a math professor at UMF, he said that he uses a overhead calculator in Calculus regularly. He doesn't use it in his other classes which include Abstract Algebra, Mathematics for Elementary Teachers, Introduction to Statistics, and the History of Mathematics. While he allows his students to use calculators in all of his courses, he is considering restricting their use in his Elementary Teachers class. The bottom line is, with the introduction of calculators, they “allow your average student to do much more complicated problems than in the past. However, there is a big cost to that. First, basic arithmetic skills have suffered. Second, for many students, math becomes less about understanding the math and more about what sequence of buttons to push on a calculator,” Bailey states.

In a recent interview Professor Franzosa said that “I do not use them (calculators) much directly in my teaching, but I encourage the students to use them to help as much as possible, for example doing calculations or examining graphs of functions.” Professor Franzosa has taught math at UMaine for the past 32 years. Franzosa thinks that calculators have improved education “because not only do they help with calculations, but they are useful tools for exploring relationships.” Franzosa is also of the opinion that calculators have declined education because “students have become too reliant on them for calculations and consequently do not develop the sort of number sense that students without calculators develop.”

The Northern Illinois University has different calculator requirements for different courses. For some courses, the calculator is required, and others it is not allowed in the class. The type of calculator is also dependent on the course (full list at: www.math.niu.edu/programs/ugrad/calculators.html).

According to Science Daily, students who have learned basic mathematical skills like adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing were given a test. The students that had access to calculators beforehand scored better than students who don’t have access. No calculators where allowed in the test.

Calculators are a tool and like any tool can be misused. Calculators should be used to enhance the mathematics classes, not replace the teachers. Students should be taught how to do what they are trying to learn before they get a calculator that can do it. If they don't know how to do the math, they have no way of knowing if the answer the calculator gives is even close. Students should be able to estimate what their answer is supposed to come out to before they get the calculator out. Given these conditions calculators should be allowed in some college math classes.

References

Bailey, A. (November 2009). Personal Interview.

Franzosa, R. (December 2009). Personal Interview.

Twitchell, B. A. (November 2009). Personal Interview.

Twitchell, R. P. (November 2009). Personal Interview.

What are the benefits of graphing calculators for students in developmental mathematics courses at the post-secondary level. (2008, July 3). Retrieved November 9, 2009, from http://education.ti.com/sites/US/downloads/pdf/research_note1_postsecondary.pdf

Calculators in NIU Math Courses. (2006, May 1). Retrieved November 9, 2009, from http://www.math.niu.edu/programs/ugrad/calculators.html

Vanderbilt University (2008, August 20). Calculators Okay In Math Class, If Students Know The Facts First, Study Finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 14, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2008/08/080819160203.htm

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