Q&A #1659

Teachers' Lounge Discussion: Graphing calculators

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From: Loyd

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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