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Topic: 4 function calculators
Replies: 9   Last Post: Feb 9, 2013 5:46 PM

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Posts: 95
Registered: 12/6/04
RE: 4 function calculators -- and, why Arithmetic?
Posted: Feb 9, 2013 3:56 PM
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I noticed that Lillian Seese started this discussion by commenting that simple 4-function calculators were *almost* impossible to find.? That's true, as I mostly see them as parts of other stuff -- key fobs and cell phones, for example.? Certainly the marketing of calculators is heavily influenced by the low cost of adding more features -- why pay $5 for a simple calculator when you can pay $7 for one with twice the features.

Of course, I noticed that the discussion has migrated in to a general conversation of calculators as a tool (in various ways).? Reasonable statements of pros and cons have been made.

However, a more basic question must be raised -- WHY do we see a need to teach arithmetic?

Once upon a time, arithmetic was an advanced topic; pupils would learn about number systems, properties, and the reasoning behind operations.? I've read people state that arithmetic was more of a university topic than a grammar school (K-8) topic.? Learning fractions, for example, involves many layers of knowledge -- if we want people to understand (and remember); given two months, students could learn?this type of?arithmetic with fractions ... and another month for decimals.

Long before calculators became readily available, we had reduced 'arithmetic' down to the procedures commonly used in a given culture for computation.? The backbone of arithmetic -- number systems and properties -- was avoided as being either too difficult or unnecessary.? Correct computation is usually the most common assessment.

If we see 'arithmetic' as being the stuff commonly found in arithmetic and pre-algebra courses & books, then we have little rationale for 'teaching' it.? Correct computation is needed in very few fields and in few academic courses -- if we mean without technology.? Our client disciplines?and occupations?are much more interested in problem solving and thinking (quantitative reasoning sounds good to them).?

I believe that arithmetic (described above) has no place in a modern math curriculum.? Arithmetic is?a major problem for adults in our country, especially those from low power/low economic backgrounds; we have blocked many a student from pursuit of their dreams just because they could not perform addition of numeric fractions and similar 'skills'.? Our treatment for this lack is a course which induces students to compute correct answers within our course without any long-term benefit (understanding and reasoning).

I'm not trying to have a 'biggest poster' contest, so I'll stop.? Perhaps we can have a good conversation about whether arithmetic should be in our curriculum, and what we mean by 'arithmetic'.Jack Rotman
Professor, Mathematics Department
Lansing Community College
(517)483-1079?? ( (

-----Original Message-----
>From Joni Kessler < (>
Sent Fri 2/8/2013 8:53 PM
To 'Phil Mahler' < (>; 'mathedcc' < (>
Subject RE: 4 function calculators


I totally agree. A few years ago I was hired to tutor a young woman who
had failed Intermediate Algebra three times. Except for her math
requirements, she had completed her requirements for nursing. The nursing
courses that required math allowed the use of calculators. After 3 - 4
sessions, I believed that she had a learning disability and no matter how
well she grasped the concepts, the arithmetic would hold her back. I
suggested she get tested, and sure enough she did indeed have a LD. After
documentation, I spoke with the Dean and Professor at the college and they
gave her permission to use a 4 function calculator. She aced the course,
and subsequent courses, graduated and eventually got her MS and RN.

Joan S. Kessler (formerly Bookbinder)
Broward College
Ft. Lauderdale, FL

BTW, be careful in the storm.......... be safe my old friend. Good to see
you online.

-----Original Message-----
From: ( [] (]) On
Behalf Of Phil Mahler
Sent: Friday, February 08, 2013 6:49 PM
To: mathedcc
Subject: Re: 4 function calculators

I know that few, if any, will agree, but I don't see why we try to teach the
"tables" and algorithms using the tables to college students, especially
those with diagnosed learning disabilities. Defending this fully would take
more words than anyone wants to read, and still would not be convincing to
most, but I cannot resist suggesting that a reader consider reflectively
"what would happen to most of these students if they could use a regular
four-function calculator (even with with the dreaded fraction key, percent,
and square root) to do their college mathematics?".

My response: They would be more likely to graduate and have a better life
than they are likely to under our present practices, which have extremely
low success rates.

I once had a NEMATYC colleague who wrote an arithmetic text in which every
problem was stated in words - "in context" or "authentic" might describe it.
If a student with a calculator could do the problems in that situation, I
would believe that student was fairly successful. In fact I would propose
that many of our students who can do arithmetic mentally (or using their
digital calculator called their hands) would not be as proficient in really
using arithmetic.

This is getting too long already. I merely restate by reference the quoted
question in the first paragraph.


p.s. I have to agree with Ed's observation about using a calculator as a
teaching tool, but am concerned about the time element for an adult. My
statements above reflect my belief that our present practices don't help
most students and are just barriers to a better life. And that this is
because we bog the students down in an onerous, often detested, curriculum
that is just too discouraging, to say nothing of ineffective.

On Feb 8, 2013, at 11:45 AM, "Seese, Lillian M."
< (<>> (>>) wrote:

We were very happy to hear that we could use fact
sheets, because, as you point out, filling them in is a great opportunity to
find patterns that can then be generalized. Oh well.

From: Edward D Laughbaum
[<>] (<>])
Sent: Friday, February 08, 2013 10:44 AM
To: Spencer-Barnes, Amanda G (Hazard); Seese, Lillian M.; (<> (>)
Subject: RE: 4 function calculators

Lillian & Amanda,

The educational value of any calculator is decreased when it is thought of
and used as a tool to do mathematics. I think this is what you are both
suggesting - it is a tool used to do arithmetic. The issue is that this
thinking decreases any possibility of using a 4-function calculator as a
tool to teach addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division of whole
numbers, fractions and decimals. Basic arithmetic operations are loaded with
patterns that can be capitalized upon to teach arithmetic. Even at the
lowest level of mental processing, the brain is still a great pattern
generalizer. The neural process of generalizing both creates a memory of the
generalization and produces an understanding of the generalized content. The
challenging part of this for teachers is being able to create/develop a
pattern that students can generalize from.


At 10:37 AM 2/8/2013, Spencer-Barnes, Amanda G (Hazard) wrote:


Have you tried Dollar General, Family Dollar, or Dollar Tree stores?
Sometimes they will have small, cheap models of calculators that are only
four-function. I agree with you 100% as I believe it is important for
students to learn these basic operations without a calculator. I have
fought the same battle as you, because accommodations are not supposed to
compromise the integrity of the course. However, we both know when part of
the competencies for the course state that we must teach addition,
subtraction, multiplication, and division of whole numbers, allowing the use
of even a four-function calculator compromises the integrity of the course.

Good luck on your search!


Amanda Spencer-Barnes
Assistant Professor of Mathematics
Advisor - Phi Theta Kappa
Technology Coordinator - KYMATYC
Hazard Community and Technical College
601 Jefferson Avenue
Jackson, KY 41339
(606)666-7521 ext. 73530

Higher Education Begins Here

Change won't happen until the pain of staying the same is greater than the
pain of changing. -Emory Austin

Big men become big by doing what they didn't want to do when they didn't
want to do it.
-- Source Unknown

From: (<> (>) [<>] (<>]) On
Behalf Of Seese, Lillian M.
Sent: Friday, February 08, 2013 10:13 AM
To: (<> (>)
Subject: 4 function calculators

This is a follow up to my request for where to by 4-function calculators
(without square root or % buttons), which I am sending because of all the
questions I received from you.

First, "why would anyone want a 4-function calculator?"
Our special needs students have always been given the
accommodation of a4-function calculator if they need it for number facts.
Recently, they have been hard to find, and so our office which evaluates
students' needs for accommodations says, "calculator or fact sheet." We
thought that meant that we could eliminate calculators altogether for basic
math tests on whole numbers, but we were told that we could only eliminate
the use of the last 2 keys - say, glue them down? But if we didn't want to
do that, we could withhold the calculator for problems involving percents
and square roots, and make fact sheets available.
All of this seems pretty weird, so we went on a search for
4-function calculators - hence my e-mail to you.

Lillian Seese
Professor of Mathematics
St Louis Community College at Meramec
11333 Big Bend Blvd.
Kirkwood MO 63122

It turns out that the only place we've found them is on those sites where
you can customize coffee mugs, pencils, etc. for example,
"< (>" sells a solar 4-function
calculator for $2.57

I sometimes think we are the only department left that feels
that learning whole number operations, with borrowing, lining up place
values, combining like terms, etc. is important. thanks to all of you who
responded to me!

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