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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