A few years ago, I was chatting with a teacher after one of my seminars. She wasn’t too enthused about letting her students use graphing calculators in class because the calculators were giving the answers to the questions on the tests. She’s not alone. A posting by Larry Davidson echoes this frequently voiced criticism.

Since my first posting on this subject, my response remains unchanged: “If the calculator is giving all the answers, what’s wrong with the questions?”

The National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Texas Instruments, and many state mathematics curriculum documents emphasize the appropriate use of calculators and concur that calculators can have positive influences in school mathematics when used with proper restriction and guidance.

Questions asked with a graphing calculator must be generated using higher order thinking skills. All of my assessment items contain my four favorite questions:

Why?

How do you know…?

What if …?

So what?

The last one brings students back to the problem posed and has them explain, analyze, or interpret their answers.

For example, instead of asking, “What is the value of log 4, to the nearest hundredths?” the question becomes:

“Write the exponential statement equivalent to log 4.”

“Explain the difference between log 4 = n and log n = 4.”

“Give the inverse function of log 4 = n.”

Students may use their calculators to test conjectures on similar problems but the calculator is not programmed to “give the answer”.

I challenge all mathematics educators to begin writing new assessment items so the calculator is used as a valuable tool - not an answer machine! After all, technology isn’t going to go away; it’s up to us to learn how to work with it, not against it. Assessment items that are independent of the calculator (that don’t give calculator-savvy students an advantage) assess conceptual understanding rather than rote memorization.

Yes, it’s not “traditional” and it takes more thought, but isn’t that what we’re asking of our students?

Picture from IMAGES

Tags: educational calculators, NCTM, NCSM, calculator debate, state curriculum standards

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Posted by: Robert | June 05, 2006 at 03:49 PM