The Calculator Conundrum--Should Your Child Use One?

Dec 16, 2020 | Walnut Creek

There are pros and cons to calculator use.  This much even we won't deny.

However, Mathnasium encourages math practice independent of calculators for several reasons; here we will discuss three of their most glaring drawbacks:

  1. Calculators replace basic mental arithmetic.  Kids who have mental arithmetic down don’t easily get lost in math lectures--there isn’t so much, “Wait!  How did you get that number?” because they are able to follow along.

  2. Calculators encourage students to “guess and check” instead of discerning which computations are appropriate for a specific problem. Remember one of the biggest benefits of math skills is critical thinking--punching everything into a calculator right away leapfrogs the critical thinking piece!

  3. Calculators give students a false sense of confidence about their math ability.

There are times and places for calculator use, but in most cases the best calculator a child can use is the one right between their ears!

Our friends at Mathnasium of Littleton give useful advice for diagnosing calculator dependence in your child:

When you should dig deeper: is your child calculator dependent?

Dependence on a calculator may indicate a learning gap. If your child already uses a calculator for basic math operations, an assessment of numerical fluency may be in order. Perhaps your child started using a calculator to do homework faster. This habit may have undermined your child’s math efforts. It often surprises parents who bring their child into our centers for an assessment that, even though their child can do some advanced math, certain basic skills are still missing.

Children who have gotten used to using a calculator may not give them up without protesting. Remind them that the purpose of a math class is not just to prove an ability to answer isolated problems. A math class should teach how to think and analyze complex problems mathematically.

Ultimately, when choosing a calculator you should follow the guidelines of your child’s teacher. Just be aware of the risks and drawbacks of overuse and reliance.