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Calculator ban on young pupils

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Showing 26-49 of 49 posts in this discussion
In reply to an earlier post on Jan 14, 2012 6:00:44 PM PST
Lj3d says:
I often wonder if this sort of controversy occurred when the Abacus was invented.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 14, 2012 6:39:07 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 14, 2012 6:54:34 PM PST
The great Henri Poincare, when writing about mathematical discovery, once said something to the effect of "There is a certain amount of drudgery necessary to be great at anything."

Translation: Every child should do a lot of simple computation. If they are slow to catch on, they should do even more. If they catch on quickly, then they can do less.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 15, 2012 4:54:21 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 15, 2012 4:56:53 AM PST
...and how about enticing students with "real world applications", and the "power and beauty" of mathematics, as reformers always claim this new approach will do?

All you have to do is live in the U.S. to realize that students hate math in record numbers. A generation ago very few students hated math. There were students in the 60's and 70's who didn't particularly care for math, but I don't remember anyone saying "I hate math!" Now, students routinely say this. I haven't read any major studies, but I would conjecture that 30%-40% of our population would rather get a colonoscopy or a root canal than sit through an hour of math. I think this is more than a generational thing. It is our approach.

This 30%-40% are the people the Brits are talking about.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 21, 2012 7:43:20 PM PST
I have never let my students or children use a calculator. I am a Homeschooler, a Tutor, and an Administrator of a small private school. I always test my students by using basic addition, subtraction, muliplication, and division. These are the tests most High School and Middle School students do not pass. They try to convince me that they NEED a calculator. I laugh and explain that I didn't even use a calulator in college.

Posted on Feb 8, 2012 3:58:14 PM PST
When you have 12 year olds gathering rate of change data for multiple experimental observations and then calculating mean, median, mode and range for multiple sets of data. When you have 14 year olds looking up temperature data and calculating moving averages over multiple days and weeks. When you have 16 year olds calculating semi-chord ratios and turning them into refractive indexes...then you break out the calculators.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 14, 2012 6:57:34 PM PST
A. Thompson says:
This is not true at all. When I started school, my grandfather gave me a calculator that I wanted to take to Kindergarten. My teacher told my parents that I couldn't use the calculator in school unless I learned the material by myself. In first grade, I scored a 100% on the test and took the second grade test which I missed two problems that the second graders hadn't even learned. Needless to say, I was allowed to use my Texas Instruments calculator was always at the top of the class in Mathematics.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 15, 2012 7:31:34 AM PST
What is true for one person cannot be extrapolated across the whole population. A very bright child will use a calculator as an exploratory device, and may even do better as a result of using a calculator. Another child who is near the 50th percentile most likely needs flashcards, and can be turned into a complete dullard if given unrestricted access to a calculator.

Posted on Mar 2, 2012 12:26:58 AM PST
Jan says:
It amazes me how a student can graduate high school and can not add the price of two or three items that they choose to buy in a store! I am amazed at the few cashiers I have seen who cannot complete a sale because *...the register is broke down, so I can't do the math." Oh and the famous "But I don't know how to make change!". Apparently basic math skills is not required to handle sales for some stores. Yet, I know of a 1st grader who has said "Mom, the ball is .99...and i have a dollar, can u give me a nickel so I can buy it?" (sales tax here is 6%)

Posted on Mar 4, 2012 11:30:28 AM PST
P. Alther says:
Yes, definitely agree with this. Calculators should be banned for children. This is why the fundamentals are so difficult for them. Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing children taught how to use slide rules, instead.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 24, 2012 9:01:34 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 24, 2012 9:02:29 PM PDT
M. Valencia says:
Oh I remember the Math A/B era, the class was monotonous because there were students who could not understand the material, yet the class was easy for me because the material wasn't that difficult. I feel sorry for the students who were lost, it should have been a simple straight forward curriculum but it wasn't.

I also remember a conversation I had with my therapist about the changes to the math curriculum, I told her upper difficult math topics were left for the college level while the lower basics were separated into Math A and B, but only math A was needed for a diploma. Her response was "So, they made it easier?", I did not want to admit the truth about my piss poor education, but she was right, so I said "yeah".

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 31, 2012 11:37:28 AM PDT
I grew up in Haiti. And I wasn't allowed to use a calculator on math exams until the 10th grade. And I took calculus, analytical geometry without a graphing calculator. We couldn't afford to buy calculators anyways. All you have on exams is a piece of scratch paper. For graphing you have a geometry instrument set. Needless to say that when I moved to the US I think the way they do math here is just a joke. Most american kids couldn't do the simple mathematical operations without a calculator. I think they're too spoiled when it comes to that.

So I completely agree with the ban of the use of calculators on younger students. I think it can only help them in the future.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 31, 2012 8:03:01 PM PDT
The pseudo-education of American students was exposed by Andrei Toom in his landmark article, "A Russian Teacher in America," which was published in the Journal of Mathematical Behavior and is reproduced at:

Toom's truly superb analysis "Wars in American mathematical education," is available at:

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 1, 2012 5:57:42 AM PDT
Toom's article is a great read.
Here's another good site:
Of particular interest is an open letter to the then secretary of education in 1999:

A lot of this material is dated, yet many of these articles can give a quick synopsis of the politics in math education. As such, this can help give a clear picture of how we got to this dismal state of affairs.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 1, 2012 10:14:59 AM PDT
The promotion of "Common Core State Standards in Mathematics" is now underway. I do not know much about this new promotion, but it may well be another massive failure.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 1, 2012 12:00:21 PM PDT
Here are a few facts about common common core.

The curriculum by itself looks pretty good. But, there are 8 practices that are superimposed upon the curriculum. You can read about this at These 8 practices may add a bit of confusion to what was supposed to be a return to coherence, and a return to a curriculum framed by the natural structure of mathematics.

Moreover, enter Bill Gates and Pearson Publishing. The Bill & Melissa Gates Foundation has partnered with Pearson Publishing and a newly formed non-profit arm of Pearson to develop a comprehensive k-10 math and ELA series.

Common Core is being implemented by NY, and I suppose many other states, with out any resource materials. NY is testing k-8 early, and teachers are being directed to use the remainder of the year to bridge any gaps in curriculum so that in 2012-2013 common core can be fully implemented, at least for k-8. The teachers, with the right preparation, will be at least partially trained to implement the Pearson/Gates implementation of common core.

Pearson has been working on e-materials for a comprehensive k-10 curriculum all along. K-3 will be free, and districts will have to pay for grades 4-10. The whole curriculum will be delivered on a platform of video games and social networking "to keep kids interested."

Here is one prediction. Many school districts will buy into this whole deal. The prospect of free materials for k-3 that entertain kids while teaching them will be so enticing. Will these materials work? Well, studies will say they will, since Pearson will control teacher credentialing exams, student assessment, and also offer free teacher preparation materials.

Here is another prediction. Pearson Publishing will make billions of dollars off of this deal. Also, once a child spends k-3 learning in an entertaining environment, what chances are there that in 4th grade a child can be successful with a traditional book,pencil/paper platform approach?

Does anyone see any problem with this? Could it be that we just sold our schools to Pearson? Personally I am very nervous that Bill Gates has gained so much leverage in education. He has no track record of any success in education. In the IT market, his track record is not of innovation, but rather it is a track record of monopolization and control, and of putting a stop to innovation by cleverly putting down competition using suspicious business practices.

In any event, don't expect these materials to be too deep. Pearson has a lot of college-level e-materials and they work to a point. But, clever college students can navigate their way through these materials without learning a lot. Don't expect Pearson and Bill Gates to make any great progress in the meantime.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 1, 2012 1:15:47 PM PDT
Lisareads says:
"But, clever college students can navigate their way through these materials without learning a lot."
An inspired student does not need to go to college and be spoon fed things they are not inspired to do.

Teachers have only one goal and that is to inspire. The student does the rest.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 1, 2012 2:00:12 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 1, 2012 7:35:36 PM PDT
Here is some information relating to the 1989 NCTM standards and the sham of "higher order thinking skills."

Most 9th grade algebra exams in NY include the following problem:

The graph of y = x^2 is:
1) exponential
2) parabolic
3) exponential
4) linear

The problem may be reworked with the student given a graph, and then being required to identify it as above.

Such a problem represents progress. Since formerly a student was only be required to graph a parabola, together with all of its properties, now we are requiring students to go much further and reason with such graphs, and to do some data analysis. Graphing in itself, after all, is so old school, and we have calculators now to accomplish this rote material, anyway. Now we can have students doing something more exciting: given some data, they can discover a pattern.

But, is this progress? Actually, no it is not. The above problem, and others, are so trivial that they can be answered by any dullard or dolt. A third grader can even be trained to answer such questions. It is very easy to associate the word LINEar with the word LINE, and absolute "V"alue with a "V"-shaped graph, and so on. This is really no deeper than associating the word "tee-he" with "ha-ha", and "dullard" with "dolt". A lot of the new math is really no deeper than this.

Formerly (pre-1980), higher-order thinking skills meant the following:
9th grade - graph a parabola, including the vertex, axis of symmetry and intercepts.
10th grade - understand the parabola as a locus of points equi-distant from a focus and directrix
11th grade - apply rigid and non-rigid transformations to parabolas, and other conic sections.
12th grade - derive x^2=4py using the geometric definition of a parabola

Such a progression of thinking skills is necessary for entry into STEM careers. Why? Such thinking is required in calculus and physics. Descartes developed analytic geometry for a reason, and it proved very useful as a tool for teaching calculus and physics. Yet, much of this is gone from high school curricula. All of this content was originally put there by some very brilliant folks, from 18th century Euler, up through the great problem-poser,Isaac Todhunter in the 19th century. Why was it put there? To head a student toward calculus, differential equations and physics. Yet, the NCTM and others, in their infinite wisdom, have yanked much of this necessary content from the curriculum. They know better, of course.

The NCTM really does not know what they are doing. Ask any college math or science professor and they will tell you that there has been a huge disconnect between secondary and higher education. The U.S. consistently ranks at the bottom in physics, and very close to the bottom in 12th grade calculus. We will continue to be at the bottom for a very, very long time. And, don't expect Common Core to bail us out. Common Core will most likely be delivered through the same old lens of confusion that brought us strands-and-bands and other artificial constructs that earned reformers lots of money.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 1, 2012 2:23:54 PM PDT
Lisareads says:
I went to NY schools including the University. The classroom was a joke they could have just given me a library card and let met do it on my own. As far as tests go I never took tests in making a living. Either you are successful or not. Testing is a waste of time and degrades inspiration. Yes I did Engineering and science. It is the people skills that mattered most. I spent many hours manipulating input data into models to give me the answer that made sense.

English jargon in different fields is only to protect the organizations that certify and control. In the end things are not all that different.
Knowledge is personal and school is not to train people for jobs. The business hiring you is responsible to invest in your training. You are responsible to live a life that makes you happy.

Posted on Apr 15, 2012 7:00:40 PM PDT
Mavatee says:
Jerald D. Truesdell, your history of NY math was fascinating. In your professional opinion, what would be the most effective way to teach algebra? If I am not mistaken, it seems you would endorse the whole course whole year method. Do you have any preferences as to which text or curriculum is most successful in fostering reliable and consistent performance in math -- particularly algebra?

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 15, 2012 7:43:03 PM PDT
I have been teaching 9th grade algebra to 8th graders in a Lutheran school for the past 17 years, always on a voluntary basis. In the meantime 9th grade math has gone through vast revisions in NY, but my overall approach has remained the same. I teach algebra from September 1st until June. I work other topics in at the end to allow students to perform well on their state exams, all the while continuing to practice algebra.

From the beginning I have used AMSCO texts. Dressler and Rich wrote an Algebra/Geometry/Algebra II and Trig series years ago, and this text has been adapted numerous times for the many NY revisions. When I began teaching this course 17 years ago I used the Dressler and Rich text because the public school district provided this for the parochial school to use. I liked their approach, since even with the mixed up sequential math curriculum, Dressler and Rich emphasized algebra throughout the text.

On top of this, I try to spend extended periods of time on key topics. We solve linear equations October, and continue this all year long. It takes quite a while for students to solve complex linear equations accurately and confidently, and also to understand the logic behind the process.

I start factoring by November, if only with worksheets. I developed an Excel spreadsheet than can generate an infinite number of FOIL/Factoring worksheets. We eventually work our way up to where students can solve some fairly sophisticated quadratic word problems. We also apply solving quadratics to finding the roots of a parabolic function, solving a linear-quadratic system, and reducing algebraic fractions, which are all part of the NY syllabus.

Also, I make sure that my students can solve the most difficult problems in the course with confidence. When ever we master such a topic I tell them that such problems are the cause of much weeping and gnashing of teeth among their peers at other schools. This gives students a lot of confidence.

Overall my students are quite successful. I teach 3-7 eighth graders each year, which is usually about half of our graduating class. From this small population we have many top performers in the larger public high school populations. A very high percentage of our graduates are math teachers, engineers, biochemists, pharmacists, etc.

As far as other texts, I like the Saxon series. I have never used it, but I know some who have, and I agree with their overall approach.

By the way, I was indirectly involved with the last math revision in NY. I'll tell the story if you are interested.


Posted on Apr 15, 2012 7:51:59 PM PDT
Mavatee says:
Jerry - thank you so much! We are curriculum developers in writing and grammar. Meanwhile, my son thinks he wants to be an engineer but doesn't take the time to get his math right. We are cycling through three different programs: Saxon, Teaching Textbooks, and Singapore. Our goal is for him to gain confidence no matter how a problem is presented. He is getting better, but we haven't started Algebra yet. I wholeheartedly believe that a kid who claims to "hate math" can become a wiz, and I told him that three years ago. He has transitioned from "hate" to "don't hate" which is a great leap forward. I'd like him to "love" it so that his options will remain open down the road.

Meanwhile, I've just discovered through a brief Googling session that you've produced some interesting physics textbooks with (apparently) the help of your children or other relatives. I am intrigued by that and glad to be posting with you on these various Ed-related boards. Meanwhile, I'll be returning to your text in a few years when we hit high school science.


In reply to an earlier post on Apr 15, 2012 8:29:53 PM PDT
That is outstanding. I teach an introduction to engineering course at Niagara County Community College. The course was kind of thrown at me, and I was told to make the best of things. So, I hastily threw together 1 1/2 texts. This series of texts is an ongoing project that will probably take several years.
In the past we have had 50%-75% attrition in calc-based physics, which is the norm for a lot of colleges. This fall I used my own materials in the engineering course, and at present we have 31 of 32 calc-based physics students still in the game. So, I guess what I am doing works.

As for loving math, I really didn't love math until college. In junior high I was probably preoccupied with dirt bikes and baseball. I don't remember any students hating math the way they do now, however It must be the way it is taught.


In reply to an earlier post on Apr 15, 2012 9:02:06 PM PDT
"As for loving math, I really didn't love math until college. In junior high I was probably preoccupied with dirt bikes and baseball. I don't remember any students hating math the way they do now, however It must be the way it is taught."

Or it's reinforced by parents: "I was never good at math either; it's ok." This I've heard at parent conferences. Only 10% of the adult population in my county has a bachelor's degree; many people in town don't see academic success as all that important to life later.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 18, 2012 5:18:08 PM PDT
Most definitely, I am sure that parents' attitudes are significant.
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