George Lucas Educational Foundation

How do you feel about calculators at an Elementary Level

How do you feel about calculators at an Elementary Level

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I teach a 4th grade special education program and monitor mainstreamed students. We learn the process of the math problems, practice some on their own as well as practice some of them using a calculator. It's a modification on thier IEP and I feel like I shouldn't be waisting all year shoving multiplication facts down thier throat. The time is better utilized teaching them different types of math problems and teaching them how to figure out how to solve them. The problem I am running into is that when kids are back on grade level and I want to place them back in class, the reg. ed. teachers are very anti calculator useage in their classrooms. They feel like if they are going to be in class, they need to be able to do it all independently. What are your feelings on the subject? If you are successful with your reg ed teachers and being able to utilize calculators in the classroom, how do you get your reg. ed teachers to buy in? Help!!! :) Guin

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P. Svec's picture
P. Svec
Primary Special Ed. Teacher (Retired)

You are so right in providing calculators for your students. As long as students understand the mathematical processes and when to use the calculator, students can progress more rapidly. You can spend more time teaching other subjects and helping those who struggle with concepts. Getting regular ed teachers on board is tough. Often they are not taking individual needs in consideratiion. Continue to do what u r doing and continue to explain your reasoning and why teaching with calculators is so right for your students. Also, it doesn't hurt to empower your parents concerning your methodologies. Parents want children to progress in the best way possible and your way is best!

Matt P's picture

I teach high school science classes. The problem I have with elementary calculator use is this. Fundamental math skills and mental math will be far more important to these kids after they graduate. Most adults can not solve a simple algebraic problem and they don't need to. Simple mental math, 22-7=15, is a problem that most of my kids need a calculator to solve. The ones who do not are quite slow to get this answer. When kids get to high school they don't remember most of the math that's been taught to them over the years. They basically memorize it long enough to pass a test or quiz and then put it out of their minds. Improving simple mental math skills by discouraging calculator use should be of greater focus. I DO NOT CARE if students, specifically those who are non-college bound, can do more than quick, simple, functional math (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions/percents).

LPS's picture
Cross Categorical/self-contained - Teacher

I agree with teaching them the process. If student is still on an IEP and the accommodation is listed then it is a non-issue (they get the calculator). If the students can show understanding in 5 problems why give them 20? Problem solving is the name of the game. My son has an auditory processing deficit (lacks phonemic awareness), so I give him pictures and let him use spell check. Teach them how to use the tools function on their cell phones. Give them a calculator to check their work if you are concerned about process. I use it in the grocery store, to figure my bills, to determine % for tips, how much they take out of my check, % for grades. I occasionally use a scientific calculator. Maybe once a year when I am figuring out square footage, or plotting a graph in Excel. It is about 21st Century skills.

Marlene Biddinger's picture

Hi! I think that we need to teach our students with IEP's how to use a calculator, as well as how to solve the problem without using a calculator. I have my students with IEP's check their problems with the calculator after they solved the problem in Grades 1 and 2.These children are able to learn the process. My Grade 5 IEP students are using the calculator to solve problems. They are given so many different skills to work on in an hour, the calculator helps them complete their work.It allows these students to be successful doing Grade Level Math.

Marla Sparks's picture
Marla Sparks
7th grade LD teacher in Hannibal, MO

I taught my students how to do the problems by hand, and when they completed 25% of their assignment with complete accuracy, I would allow them to use the calculator. I stressed over and over that the calculator is a tool, not a crutch or a requirement to solve problems. I think kids are far too reliant on calculators.

Jenifer Starnes's picture
Jenifer Starnes
5th & 6th Grade Special Ed

I read a book recently on teaching math to children with disabilities. The book really stressed using a calculator for early grades. The book stated that research had been done on this issue. Calculators can actually help them memorize their facts. What you should do is have the student verbalize the info. that they are putting into the calculator. The process of verbalizing and the action of inputting it into the calculator helps them retain the facts. Hopefully after some time you can fade the use of a calculator for basic facts.

I teach children with significant cognitive issues. My lower functioning students use the calculator a lot. My higher students use it to check their work for basic facts. As far as word problems go it can be difficult for some students to think about the facts and the process at the same time. Why waste time on facts, when the process is what they will be tested on in the end. I don't want my students to fail the state test because they cannot memorize or work out the calculations. Teachers have to let them use a calculator if it is stated in their IEP's.

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