No calculators for you!

I’m OK with this.

Texas schoolchildren should not use calculators until they learn to work through math problems the old-fashioned way — on paper, State Board of Education members said Thursday.

The board on Thursday tentatively approved new math curriculum standards designed to add rigor while encouraging students from kindergarten through fifth grade to learn basic math without the aid of calculators.

“We hear more and more from parents that their kids in school are being allowed to rely on calculators without actually memorizing their math facts and building that firm foundation,” board Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, said.

Member Mavis Knight, D-Dallas, cast the only dissenting vote against removing calculators from the early elementary grades. The board is expected to take final action on the new math standards Friday.


“Our objective today is that our kids are required to memorize their math tables and their basic math,” said David Bradley, R-Beaumont, who pushed for the restriction on calculators. “That will then lead to success.”

The board, he said, wants to send a message in the new standards that “calculators are not to be an instructional tool in K-through-5.”

Knight said she believes teachers need flexibility and should be allowed to use calculators as “an enrichment activity.”

“I think it’s nonsensical in this 21st century that we are not having students use the tools at the appropriate time and at the appropriate level because these are the tools that they will be using as they advance through school and in the work world,” she said.

The new math curriculum standards will not ban calculators in the early elementary classes as there is no way to enforce such a prohibition, but Knight said teachers “will interpret the standards as ‘we cannot use calculators.'”

The Board gave its final approval to this and the new math standards on Friday. I don’t really want to invoke the “back in my day” argument, but I did get a degree in math and never once used a calculator in any of those classes. I do think there’s value in using calculators for higher level math, mostly for graphing, and I don’t have a problem with using them in other classes where math is part of what you do – physics, for instance – but I have to agree with Cargill and Bradley here. There’s no substitute for knowing your multiplication tables. I’ve seen people whip out a calculator to multiply something by ten, or to add two two-digit numbers together. That’s crazy, and to my mind represents a failure of that person’s elementary education. Calculators have their place, and I agree with Knight that students do need to know how to use tools to help them do more things more efficiently, but knowing the times tables is a tool, too. Save the calculators till you’re at least in algebra.

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4 Responses to No calculators for you!

  1. Liberty says:

    I think I agree with the decision, but the idea of big government determining, not only what but how something should be taught strikes me as wrong. Wouldn’t we be better off hiring teachers we trust, and letting them decide the best way to teach.

    Maybe for some teachers and some students a calculator could be just a better flash card??

  2. Students need to learn their “Math Facts,” or they won’t know if the answer they get is a reasonable answer. There is value in calculator skills also but after addition and subtraction multiplication and division are essential to every thing else.

  3. Joe Virant says:

    I think the larger issue is heading straight for memorization of algorithms before allowing kids to gain a real concrete number sense. There is absolutely material that needs to be memorized in all of our lives, but how much pure memorization without meaning have we each done in our schooling experiences? Anyone else memorize the Preamble without really knowing what it meant? 🙂 If we used computers in the ways Seymour Papert describes, we wouldn’t have to legislate against the use of electronics in our classrooms. If you’re not familiar with Seymour’s work, check out this site with daily references to his work, as well as his books Mindstorms, The Children’s Machine, and The Connected Family.

  4. Gary Bennett says:

    As a former high school math teacher, I agree with your arguments. I think you can excite young kids with cool tricks with calculators, but they should not be allowed to get in the way of memorizing enough addition and multiplication tables to allow them to be able to do much of life’s elementary arithmetic problems in their heads. Calculators become invaluable in advanced math classes, though; no one will learn the beauty of various types of curves through doing hand plotting on every one of them. Nor will statistical analysis become a daily life tool if you have to do all the calculations by hand. On the other hand, if you hire the right teachers, you should be able to trust them to know when and when not to use devices! There has never been and never will be a teacher-proof curriculum.

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