Q&A #1659

Teachers' Lounge Discussion: Graphing calculators

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From: Harry Petersen

To: Teacher2Teacher Public Discussion
Date: 2001120813:39:37
Subject: Re: Graphing calculators

  Most of the time I do not allow calculators on exams. There are two
reasons: 1) I want students to explain to me what things mean. For
example, "Show what the phrase, 'the limit---->a of a function f = L'
means by sketching diagrams. Then provide counterexamples of when the
limit does not exist."  Calculators do not necessarily help in this
kind of conceptual understanding. 2)Students need to reach a certain
level of symbolic manipulation so that the geometry and the algebra
make sense. This means they need to solve a lot of problems by hand so
they will be able to use the Calculus for problems that require an
analytical setup. 
  The times that I do allow graphing calculators is when I give Free
Response questions that the College Board has asked students in the
past few years. I make sure students know the four things that are
required for the AP exam and show them a few tricks (such as graphing
piecewise functions). 
  In sum, calculators are a tool. They cannot solve problems and are
not capable of understanding--only human beings can do this in my

Harry Petersen
Math Chairman
Pinewood Prep School 

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