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Q&A #372


Calculators in the Primary (K-2) Classroom

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From: Vasha (for Teacher2Teacher Service)
Date: Jun 18, 1998 at 00:39:46
Subject: Re: Calculators in the Primary Classroom

Hi Lynn, Finding calculator activities for primary students is a challenge, and like so many other topics, there will only be a few ideas to fit your group of students in any one resource. However, once the calculators are in the room and the teacher is willing to let children use them, lots of opportunities will come up. We have tried using the constant feature to let children count things in the room. For example, on the TI-12 you press + 1 = and then every time you press the = key, the display increases by one. So if the children want to count the number of tables in the room, or the number of shoes, they simply press the = key once for every item and read the display. This is not necessarily a better way to count, but it's one that gets a calculator in their hands. To do skip counting, press the number you want to count by, then +, and then =. For example, with 5 + =, each time you press = the display increases by 5. The teacher might ask the students: What is happening when you press the = key? Could the calculator count by 3's? What do you think you will see if you press the = key 3 more times? 5 more times? How can we make the calculator count by 10's? Is 78 a number we will get when we count by 10's? How do you know? etc. Other ways to get this constant feature are to press 0 + 5 =; or 5 + + +. If one method won't work on your calculator, try another. Young children have heard about multiplication, and with a calculator the mystery becomes doable. Last year my kids had fun making a game. They began with a 3 x 3 grid like tic-tac-toe. A product would be entered in each square of the grid. The factors were written in a row below the grid. Players would take turns choosing 2 factors and putting a chip on the correct factor on the game board. The winner placed 3 in a row. The calculator was handy in creating the game and checking during play. Multiplication "facts" were memorized pretty quickly. Another calculator game we liked was "Target 21." Two children use one calculator and take turns pressing a 1, 2, or 3 followed by =. The winner is the first player to make the display read 21. After playing a few games, we talk about strategy and each child writes down the strategy s/he used to get 21. Before long, 2nd graders are hard to beat! Yep, it's a nim game 20th century style. Another activity is to write a number inside a square and then ask the children to put a number at each corner of the square so that those 4 numbers add up to the number in the middle. Or, you might ask kids to use the calculator to list ways to make the number of the day's date - how many ways are there to make 17? "Using the Math Explorer Calculator" by Bitter and Mikesell has a section on higher-order thinking skills for K-3 with some good activities. Two books with good calculator work are "Calculator Exploration and Problems" by D. Miller (1979), available from Cuisenaire, and "How to Develop Problem Solving Using a Calculator" by J. Morris (1981). Although these books are for upper elementary, I have adapted some of their ideas. The Addenda Series on Patterns for K-6, published by NCTM, also has good primary calculator activities. We use the TI-108 and sometimes the TI-12 at the primary level. I hope these ideas will be helpful. Good luck in your quest for sensible things for primary children to do with calculators! -Vasha, for the Teacher2Teacher service

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