Friday, November 9, 2012

British Government bans Calculators

Here's a remarkably backward step by the British Government concerning the use of calculators in primary school maths (elementary school math). They are banning calculators from the test taken by 11 year-old students.  It's almost inconceivable to believe that a group  of educated people could consign young children to the laborious task of nineteenth century pencil and paper computations. It's like not allowing people to use word processing technology to write.

This is such a bad idea. First, it is guaranteed to do nothing to help children develop more positive attitudes toward math. There are so many more wonderful things to learn about in math class than the unbelievable drudgery of doing algorithms by hand.

Secondly, the incredible amount of time wasted in schools teaching children how to complete laborious algorithms could so much better be spent teaching them how to solve problems. According to Thomas Carpenter, there are 22 different types of simple mathematical constructs involving joining, separating, part-part-whole, comparison, equal groups, area and so on that can be solved through the application of the addition subtraction, multiplication and division operations. We need to spend our precious time we have teaching children how to identify the nature of a particular math problem so they can then know which button to press on the calculator in order to solve the problem.

We cannot, of course, allow calculators to replace mental math. We now teach children from a young age all about the intricacies of our number system and how to use number mentally. Wonderful math programs such as Bridges focus extensively on numeracy or quantitative literacy as it is sometimes called.

It's interesting to note the use of the word "sums" in the BBC article. In the UK a sum is any one of the four operations, not just addition as an Harry Potter fan knows.

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