One thing that I have really had to work on and essentially re-learn since the start of my university career is mental math. Back in elementary school, I am quite certain I was a mental math whiz. I could likely rattle off multiplication tables in my sleep. From what I recall, that was all we ever worked on and what my teachers really emphasized and encouraged us to learn.

After that, I got my hands on a calculator. Slowly, but surely, these skills started to fade away. Come highschool, I was using my calculator to do simple multiplication (like 6 x 7) and I recall using it to check to make sure my simple addition was correct (like 8+9). These are very simple things to calculate in my head. In grade twelve, I’m sure most fifth graders could have done mental math quicker than me and my classmates. We became so reliant on our calculators, we would have been hopeless and lost if we no longer had them.

Then I came to university. My math classes were no calculators allowed on exams. I remember thinking I had no chance of succeeding. I put in some serious time remembering how to do my mental math and simple math operations on paper. This might be a stretch, but maybe this could be part of the reason why the number of students who failed those classes was so high.

I’m conflicted when I think into this more. I keep learning about how we are supposed to be connecting students to content and information and teaching them to use the tools that can provide them with this information. Basically, from my understanding of this, we shouldn’t waste time teaching things that could be simply Googled. But where do calculators come into play? I guess you could Google math operations since Google has built in a calculator feature into their search.

Do students rely on calculators too much? Is that okay with the current trends of education? Have things changed that I don’t know about? I really know nothing about this.

Obviously, you can’t calculate everything in your head. There are definite situations when calculators have to be used, like with logs and anything involving trig functions. Also, in the real world, most people would whip out their calculators since decimal numbers are more useful than reduced fractions.

I would love to see students use calculators as little as possible and use their brains a little more.

February 28, 2010 at 10:25 pm

OMG I never knew Google calculated! One more blow to mental math. My grade four and fives do learn basic math facts and calculators are rare. I’m sure they will be like most people and rely on calculators as time goes on.