Most people (even those of us who love to do math by hand) enjoy being able to use a calculator to help us with quick computations. And our students love it too. Although calculators are a great tool, they can also be a stumbling block in the classroom.
However, with some key management tips, using calculators in the classroom doesn’t have to be an issue.
Keeping up with classroom sets can be tricky.
When we’re teaching basic concepts on calculators, such as graphing parabolas, we want to make sure every student has access to a calculator. Plus, when each student has the same model, it makes teaching easier. But making sure those same calculators are returned and kept nice can be a totally different matter.
1. Use an engraving tool instead of stickers - Stickers can be removed and get worn out. Creating serial numbers with engraving tools work better in the long run.
Then, by number, establish responsibility with the student through a written contract - Sometimes students just aren’t aware of responsibility. They often think things are at their disposal without any question. Having them sign a contract of responsibility will help make their accountability real.
Students are almost always more excited about lessons when some sort of technology is involved, including calculators. That’s why they can be a powerful motivator in the classroom. Not only do students engage more readily, it helps them visualize concepts and ideas better as well.
Set aside specific class time to learn how to use the new tools that you are sharing with them. Be sure your students walk through the features of the calculator. Don't assume they've all used this model before!
● Scientific calculators are introduced in lower level math - Include a lesson where you show your students how to use this calculator. Check out these lesson plan ideas from the Virginia Mathematics Standards of Learning.
● Graphing calculators are used for higher level classes - Higher math will often require and benefit from the use of graphing calculators. However, they are only helpful if you know how to use them. That’s why it’s important to touch on the basics of how to use one. Bright Hub Education has some good lesson plans you can build upon to do just that.
What about having students use them for tests?
One of the first things you’ll hear a student say in a class when you won’t let them use a calculator is, “Well, in the real world I’ll always have a calculator to use. So why can’t I use one now?” And not only is that not exactly true, it’s no excuse or replacement for knowing how to do it on your own. That being said, it’s not a bad idea to allow a calculator for certain parts of the exam. Because in real world applications and entry exams, a lot of time calculators are allowed.
(Yes, they always have their phones – but sometimes we want to test a thinking process or have students prove their grasp of a concept and not allow them to use a resource to help during the assessment process.)
If you decided a calculator can be used, it’s best to let it only be used on part of the exam. Make it a two part exam where the student does the first part without a calculator. Then once it is turned in, they receive their calculator and the second half of the exam.
Also, as you know, graphing calculators have storage capabilities. Meaning that formulas and other information that is not allowed as a given for the test could be stored. So, either you will need to use your classroom set (which is cleared before a test) or make sure that all students clear their data before being able to take the exam. This will deter any cheating or passing of answers from one class to the next.
However, I always have a rule in my own classes that if a student can write a program (on their own!) within their own graphing calculator to perform an operation, then they may use it. For example, I feel that if they can show me that they understood the quadratic formula well enough to create a program that can do it for them, then they should be all good to go with plugging in and using it, too!
When and how you want to use a calculator in your classroom is always up to you. There are always going to benefits and drawbacks for using this tool when it comes to mathematics. Stick to your gut feeling on whether or not kids should be using a calculator at any specific time, and don't give in to whining!
How do you use calculators in your class? We’d love to hear some more ideas about how you manage them in your classroom.
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