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The calculator, in its many forms, has made the life of the student less arduous than in the past. Yet it has its challenges for the teacher. Teachers must still teach the students the Mathematics while the students must understand the Mathematics of the procedure to gain the most benefit from this powerful tool.
The calculator takes the drudgery of long calculations away from the student allowing the student to gain more experience of a topic in a much shorter time. It also allows the teacher to bring more life related exercises into the classroom particularly in later years.
What is important for the young teacher to remember is that the calculator will not do the teaching for you. It is merely a tool that you have your students use to help consolidate their learning.
Below are strategies that will help you, as a young teacher, to gain the maximum advantage from using calculators.
• Have the students use the same calculator. This makes it easier for you when you only have to give one set of instructions. This becomes more important especially with graphics calculators.
• Have a large chart of the calculator face/dial to use to show where the keys you want to use are. Leave the chart displayed on a noticeboard at the front of the room permanently to allow you to demonstrate when individual students need help.
• Use an overhead transparency with the calculator face on it to help in the same way. This allows you to point to the keys you want the students to use while you face the class giving you the opportunity to ensure all your students are on task and to see those who need your help.
• When you are teaching a new procedure, write the steps and symbols on the board. Make sure every student does each step with you. Have each student check their partner’s calculator as they go. This is especially true when using a graphics calculator.
• Teach your class to understand this axiom:
“The calculator is only as smart as its operator”, i.e. “rubbish in, rubbish out”. Explain to the class, frequently, that the calculator gives perfect answers to whatever you give it so the student must press the correct buttons in the right order.
• Make sure, as best you can, that the students understand the ‘Maths’ of the process they are using. However, knowing the correct procedure to use will at least give them the correct answer.
• Encourage the class to do the Gematria calculator twice using the calculator to check that they get the same answer both times. If they don’t, they should redo it. Tell them to write the answers down each time so they can check them.
• Tell your class how to get an estimate of the answer as a way of checking that their calculator answer seems correct. If the answer and the estimate are quite different, the student needs to investigate further.
• Inform your class that flat batteries can create abnormal results.
• Use your best calculator students as mentors for those whose calculator skills are lacking. Their language is the language of their peers who often get the ‘message’ more quickly from them than from you, the teacher.
• With graphics calculators, it is important to teach your students the “reset” procedure as, often, stored data will not corrupt the calculations being done.
• For advice on particular makes of graphics calculators and their special application, the teacher need only go to the company’s website to get further support. These websites often have lesson plans to help the inexperienced teacher begin using these powerful learning tools.
• Finally, you must be very proficient in using the calculator. This is especially true with the scientific and graphics calculators.
In conclusion, remember the calculator cannot do your teaching for you. In the end, the calculator, even with all its power, will need your input somewhere for it to be truly effective for your students.