My grandfather was a Calculus professor at Georgia Tech, and I remember when he saw me use a calculator to solve a simple Algebra problem when I was in high school, he about lost it. He proceeded to lecture me, “do you not know how to add? Do you need to go back to 1st grade?” Yes, it was traumatizing. But, my grandfather raised an important issue: when is it appropriate to use a calculator?
Reasons to Use a Calculator:
- It allows me to focus on the harder aspect of the problem and not get bogged down with the simple arithmetic.
- I am taking advantage of the technology available to me. I am not living in the 18th century, so I should use the calculator!
- It allows me to solve the math problems with more accuracy and speed.
Reasons to Not Use a Calculator:
- I can keep my simple arithmetic skills well practiced.
- The act of physically writing out a problem’s steps will help me better remember the material. (The same is true for note taking. If you take notes by hand you are more likely to remember the material than if you were to type your notes.)
- It allows me to better understand the problems conceptually. For example, when graphing conics, I will better understand the nature of parabolas if I know how to graph the problem by hand instead of relying on the calculator to show me the graphs.
It seems like there is a trade-off when using a calculator or when not using one. If you use a calculator, then you will be able to solve problems faster and with more accuracy, but you are sacrificing the benefits of taking the problem slow and truly understanding the concept. For maximum use of your time and technology, my advice would be to put your calculator away when you are doing homework and practice problems. This will allow you to learn the concepts fully. Then, when you start reviewing for a test and when you are actually taking a test, you can use a calculator to ensure quick and accurate problem solving.
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