Calculating Your Kids’ Abilities

Calculating Your Kid's Abilities: could using a calculator hurt your child?

Could using a calculator hurt your child?

I don’t remember when I was first allowed to use one, but I do have a memory of it being a novelty at the time. As a child of the seventies, I was just beyond the years when the abacus was considered modern! Technology has certainly come a long way since then, and with computers, smartphones, and tablets at our disposal, our kids are better versed than we were in the use of technology. But, could calculator use do more harm than good?

Veteran homeschool expert Rob Shearer argues,

The very real danger in allowing the use of calculators is that it will prevent children from really learning to do basic computation on their own.

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My son is currently taking a college math class as a dual enrollment student, and on the first day of class, his professor stated that calculators would not be allowed. What? No calculator for college math? There goes twelve bucks down the drain! (Not really . . . Mommy is finding it to be quite useful in checking behind him on his homework. Double standard and all.)

This revelation caused me to start thinking about the whole calculator issue. Surprisingly, many homeschool parents let their students use a calculator from a young age. Some as young as third grade. An unofficial poll of homeschool parents revealed that most begin calculator use with algebra, while several postpone it until their students start learning chemistry or calculus.

Is there any harm in this?

Once kids have mastered the math facts, does letting them use a calculator for speed make sense?

Well, here’s the rub. Speed is not necessarily the goal we want to work towards with schoolwork. As a mom with a math deficiency, I do grab the calculator to check answers when my kids and I are booking through the Saxon. Because sometimes it does feel like math takes F-O-R-E-V-E-R. Plus, it’s just not my favorite subject, so I as much as anyone would love to get it over with as soon as possible. But, my kids might not be benefiting when we work to “get it over with.”

Faster isn’t necessarily better.

Efficiency and speed are important in some areas, but not necessarily with schoolwork. Accuracy and understanding are better goals to implement with math, and speed comes with understanding the process.

You don’t want the calculator to be smarter than you. You want it to be a tool that you utilize to make things faster, but you have to be as smart as the calculator to use it properly. Once you do reach this point, maybe by the time you reach advanced mathematics and physics, you have to marry that use of the calculator with your own understanding about how the problem is derived.

When you’re writing, the computer helps you, but you have to have the ideas and know where you’re headed. When you’re driving, your car is the tool that gets you from point A to point B, but you have to know both how to operate the car and where you’re going.

Anyone can use a calculator. But mathematicians and physicists aren’t smart because they know how to use a calculator really well. They’re smart because they know how the calculator finds the answer – how the problem is solved. You’ve got to have the body of knowledge before you add the tool.

Our society is getting more technical every day. Even if your child isn’t headed for a career in a math field, they will use critical thinking skills and reasoning in all walks of life. Laying the foundation now, and allowing time for the art of discovery, will do them a far greater service than speeding through to the finish line.

So, I’ll stash my calculator away with my chocolate for now, For Emergency Mommy Use Only. Tough love!

I’d love to have you weigh in on this conversation! What are your thoughts on calculator use?

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