When students are very young, the emphasis of math instruction is on learning how to understand math. Once basic math concepts are understood and the student is working in pre-algebra or algebra, calculator use is important.
Parents should be the judge of when a student is proficient in basic math facts, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division (even large numbers) with pencil and paper before allowing the use of a calculator.
Once you allow your elementary student to use a calculator, be sure to teach the following:
- A calculator is a tool to do calculations. So is the human mind, and pencil and paper. Children should be taught when to use a calculator, and when mental computation (or even pencil and paper) are more effective or appropriate. Choosing the right ‘tool’ is part of effective problem-solving.
- It is very important that students learn how to estimate the result before doing the calculation. It is very easy to make mistakes when entering numbers. Students should learn to check the reasonableness of their answers before relying on the calculator.
- The calculator should not be used to randomly try out all the possible operations to determine which one produces the right answer. It is crucial that students understand the different mathematical operations so that he or she knows WHEN to use which one – whether the actual calculation is done mentally, on paper, or with a calculator.
- A calculator can help students complete high school math lessons in a more reasonable time as well as help students concentrate on solving complex problems rather than concentrating on time-consuming arithmetic.
- Calculators are used and encouraged on the PSAT, SAT, and ACT tests. A student familiar and comfortable with calculators may score better on these tests than a student who rarely uses a calculator.
- Calculators are appropriate for exploratory purposes in Grades K-3 and should be used for problem solving in Grades 4-8. Calculators should be used on a regular basis in all high school level math courses.