(From November 2010)

While tutoring math students in the North Shore, I've observed the
"blessing and curse of the calculator". As they do problems in Algebra,
Trigonometry, Calculus, and other courses, kids often refer to their
calculator. There are pros and cons. Why?

When I was a young math student (a long, long, time ago!), a calculator
was a novelty. A luxury. A nice graduation gift. A helpful device. But,
it couldn't be relied upon. Why? Many weren't sophisticated enough for
certain problems. (Plus, in many cases, teachers would not permit
them.)

Today, even simple calculators are incredibly powerful. Last week, a
calculus student in Highland Park quickly input the coefficients of 3
quadratic equations. Presto, he had the solution. I watched a
trigonometry student quickly solve area problems and utilize law of
cosines with the help of her calculator.. At the same time, while
working with a 6th grader in Glencoe, I cringed as the kid reached for
the calculator to solve a division problem! (Could he not try long
division by hand?). He came up with the right number---but, wrong
decimal point. (He had pushed the wrong button!)....

Today, calculators are quite affordable. (And, teachers allow students
to use them.). Nevertheless, while a calculator is incredibly useful to
perform complex tasks, kids should consider the old school
method---pencil and paper----to solve simple equations. They need the
practice!

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