Do calculators inhibit learning?


Michael Nguyen, Staff Writer

Calculators are helpful tools used in all math classes from the beginning of middle school onward, but over the years it may seem that we are becoming too reliant on these devices and tend to forget the concepts of how to attain an answer using our brains.

Studies have shown that students will not attempt to solve a problem that can be easily typed in a calculator because of the laziness to do calculations physically.

For example, at the Mathematics Education Centre at Loughborough University in England, exams were given to students to see how they would attack the problem, and more than half of the students opted to use their calculators.

This issue can contribute to the reason why other countries have far superior statistics in terms of education ranking in subjects such as math.

China is a top competitor in education, due in part to their teaching methods that stress understanding the concepts and equations. This is evident in an article titled, “Explainer: what makes Chinese maths lessons so good?”

According to the article, “Chinese maths teachers also emphasise the use of precise and elegant mathematical language. In secondary school math exams, if pupils do not write according to the mathematical format required, marks will be deducted.”

In math classes in the U.S., students can see a problem and skip steps that should be written down physically by typing it down in their calculator when it should be done quickly and in their head which is why in timed situations such as the SAT, the math scores are not as high.

This is evident in an article by Nick Anderson that stated how the SAT scores in 2015 had hit an all time low in the last ten years. To illustrate, The average score for the Class of 2015 was 1490 out of a maximum 2400, the College Board reported Thursday. This was down 7 points from the previous class’s mark and was the lowest composite score of the past decade.

There were declines of at least 2 points on all three sections of the test — critical reading, math and writing.” As technology has allowed us the ability to use calculators that can do extraordinary calculations without the explanation, many students have a challenge when it comes to problems that involve setting up the calculations. That is why critical thinking skills which is required in the Math portion of the SAT, tends to be the lowest score for most students.

This is shown in an article by Janet Lorin which shows how the scores have dipped , “While the average reading score, 497, went up by a point from last year, math dipped by a point to 513.”

As time moves forward into the generation of new technology that allows computers to think for us, maybe it is time for students to take a step back and learn how to attack intricate questions without assistance from a device.