Study: Calculators okay in math class
20 Aug 2008

Study: Calculators okay in math class

…but, only if students know the math

20 Aug 2008

…but, only if students know the math first.

Media guru Griffin Gardner forwarded this article from ScienceDaily, which suggests that calculators are useful tools in elementary-level mathematics classes.  Citing research by Bethany Rittle-Johnson and Alexander Oleksij Kmicikewycz at Vanderbilt, and recently published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, ScienceDaily writes:

“So much of how you teach depends on how you market the material – presentation is very important to kids,” Kmicikewycz added. “Many of these students had never used a calculator before, so it added a fun aspect to math class for them.”

“It’s a good tool that some teachers shy away from, because they are worried it’s going to have negative consequences,” Rittle-Johnson said. “I think that the evidence suggests there are good uses of calculators, even in elementary school.”

From the JECP article:

The impact of prior knowledge on the benefits of generating information highlights an important constraint that teachers should consider. Initial practice in generating answers seems important to support procedure acquisition; once procedures are learned, the benefits of generating answers may be reduced or eliminated. This converges with teachers’ beliefs that ‘‘calculators should be used only after students had learned how to do the relevant mathematics without them” (Ballheim, 1999, p. 6). Reading answers from calculators does offer some potential benefits for higher knowledge students; it increases opportunities for practice of individual items and removes exposure to incorrect answers. Associative memory models predict that greater exposure to problems and their answers improves recall of the answers and that exposure to incorrect answers decreases recall of correct answers (e.g., Shrager & Siegler, 1998; Siegler, 1988). In the current study, using calculators increased the number of times the problems were practiced and decreased the number of errors during the study session. This may explain why higher knowledge students did not seem to benefit from generating answers. Over additional study sessions, benefits of calculator use for learning arithmetic facts may accrue. More generally, teachers should consider the potential trade-off in practice using procedures and frequency of exposure to correct information and should consider that this trade-off may vary for students with different knowledge levels. (p. 80)

The Chinese are using hand-held learning devices to help them pass English exams, and the U.S. is starting to see the benefits of the use of calculators in the classroom.  Is “ethical cheating” becoming mainstream?

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