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Q&A #1659

Teachers' Lounge Discussion: Graphing calculators

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From: Loyd <loydlin@aol.com>
To: Teacher2Teacher Public Discussion
Date: 2001111209:38:07
Subject: Re: Re: When to use graphing calculators

On 2001111115:51:40, Julie wrote:
>I have a teacher who doesn't allow the use of calculators because he
>wants to be sure that we understand the idea.  We are free to use
>calculators on homework problems when the numbers can get
complicated.
>However, on tests he uses problems that don't require calculators
>because he is more interested in finding if we understand the
concept.
>

This topic always gets lots of action.  

First let me say, that I view graphic calculators and scientific
calculators differently.  

The graphic calculator is often used as a scientific calculator by
students when all they need is a scientific calculator.

I don't know if you are talking about algebra or other classes.  But
for algebra I, one doesn't really need a scientific calculator.  Most
simple equations used in most textbooks can be solved by a student who
is only going to multiply or divide by simple integers.

I prefer that students leave their answers in improper or proper form
and then there is no need to actually divide out the answers.  An
answer such as 4/3 is much more meaningful then when expressed in
decimal repeating form.  It is also much easier to check your answers.

The real use of calculators is in the science world.  Chemistry,
physics, physical science, etc., involve many problems where large
numbers expressed exponentially can best be solved with a scientific
calculator.  

So for that reason alone, I believe the math teacher should include
the scientific calculator at times in all math classes.  At other
times, it shouldn't be acceptable.  If students show their work then
say for adding fractions where they show their regrouping,
determination of the Least Common Denominator etc., then they should
be able to check their work with a scientific calculator that also has
a fraction key.  

Before calculators, people in science classes had to use the slide
rule.  Many hours were spent by teachers in teaching the proper use of
the slide rule.  The slide rule was essential for teaching chemistry
and physics.  It wasn't that useful in math classes where most
problems involved simple integers.  In about 1969 or so, one company
brought out a reverse polish notation calculator for 300 or 400
dollars and the scientific calculator was born.  I purchased a $100.00
Texas Instrument calculator a few months later that had a red LED
display.  Batteries lasted a short time because of the drain from the
display.  The rest is history.  Where I worked during much of my life,
calculators and minicomputers played a very important role.  

I view the scientific calculator as one of the most important
inventions for modern times.  I still have a healthy respect for them
and still try to teach the students I tutor how to use them,
particularly for problems that involve exponents and exponential
functions.  

The graphic calculator is another animal.  It is useful for
statistics, graphing functions of all types and solving large systems
of equations.  The latter feature is worth teaching to all algebra II
students.

If you are going on to college and are going to get a BS degree, you
really need to know how to use a scientific calculator at least.   

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