With just over three hours until I begin my Calculus final, I am pausing to reflect a bit on the education of mathematics. I’ll be honest, I hated my math teachers in high school. Nothing against them as people, I just never did very well and I didn’t really enjoy class. One thing I am thankful for that the SF University High School Math Deptarment did very well was teach calculator work. In fact, I think I would go as far back as David McSpadden of Stuart Hall for Boys in K-8 school because Mr. McSpadden made me buy and learn how to operate my first graphing calculator: the TI-81. In fact, in 8th grade we had calculator exams, meaning we had to write down what buttons we would push on the calculator in order to answer a math question.
Middlebury math does not use calculators. Normally, I’d say the instructors are just hardcore math geeks who don’t believe in using the calculator as a crutch. But I actually really fault the department for not preparing students to use calculators. Calculators can be incredibly useful in teaching, learning, and understanding the concepts in math. It also helps students get a feel for real world answers instead of leaving everything in terms of pi and logs. Graphing is perhaps the most meaningful function on the calculator because it saves a lot of time in finding out what a graph looks like.
I encourage math teachers to educate themselves about calculators and then use them effectively in the classroom. Calculators do not have to be a crutch. They can be a tool.