## Calculators

October 6, 2010 by richbeveridge

I am of the opinion that students need to learn what a calculator is doing in order to use it properly.

Here’s an example – calculating with decimals can be somewhat tedious and there certainly is a point of diminishing returns with regard to the length of problem sets assigned for practicing concepts.

But, if students don’t develop number sense and don’t really understand what a calculator is doing in a situation as simple as adding two decimal numbers, they can get unexpected results and not be sure whether or not they’ve made a mistake.

Suppose someone needs to add 0.547+0.453

Entered into a calculator, the answer is 1

No big deal – IF you understand how adding decimals works. If you don’t, this answer might be confusing – where did all the other digits go?!

There’s always a balance to be struck between drills and “big picture” ideas and it’s a different balance for different topics and different groups of students.

But, as Professor Wu points out, basic skills vs. conceptual understanding is a bogus dichotomy.

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