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calculators

Calculator apps

This seems reasonable to me.

Despite concerns about test security, Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams announced Thursday that he would allow some students to use calculator “apps” on state exams next school year.

Under current rules students may use only traditional calculators. But with more districts giving students iPads or other tablets, some school officials said students should be allowed to use less expensive graphing calculator “apps.” Williams conceded, just for eighth-graders, but ruled out the use of mobile phones.

“While I recognize this revised policy will not address all concerns and may still require some districts to purchase additional technology, I am hopeful this policy will enable us to provide some flexibility,” Williams said in a statement.

Graphing calculators typically cost about $100, though districts may be able to get cheaper bulk rates, said Debbie Ratcliffe, spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency. The apps cost $15 or $20, she said.

“The problem from our end was the security risk it created,” Ratcliffe said, referring to students using tablets. “They’d have a camera. They’d have access to the internet. Initially we said no, but we had enough feedback that the commissioner said it would be worth it to try — but at the same time warning districts they really need to make sure their test security and test monitoring occurs at a high level.”

As Jason Stanford points out, there are ways to cheat with the TI graphing calculators as well. Seems to me if the concern is that great there are steps that can be taken to temporarily disable wireless data communications where the tests are being taken if one wants to do so. Personally, I think the benefit of not making the kids spend $100 on a tool they likely won’t ever need outside the classroom far outweighs that risk. This was the right call, and it should be extended to other students as well.

No calculators for you!

I’m OK with this.

Texas schoolchildren should not use calculators until they learn to work through math problems the old-fashioned way — on paper, State Board of Education members said Thursday.

The board on Thursday tentatively approved new math curriculum standards designed to add rigor while encouraging students from kindergarten through fifth grade to learn basic math without the aid of calculators.

“We hear more and more from parents that their kids in school are being allowed to rely on calculators without actually memorizing their math facts and building that firm foundation,” board Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, said.

Member Mavis Knight, D-Dallas, cast the only dissenting vote against removing calculators from the early elementary grades. The board is expected to take final action on the new math standards Friday.

[…]

“Our objective today is that our kids are required to memorize their math tables and their basic math,” said David Bradley, R-Beaumont, who pushed for the restriction on calculators. “That will then lead to success.”

The board, he said, wants to send a message in the new standards that “calculators are not to be an instructional tool in K-through-5.”

Knight said she believes teachers need flexibility and should be allowed to use calculators as “an enrichment activity.”

“I think it’s nonsensical in this 21st century that we are not having students use the tools at the appropriate time and at the appropriate level because these are the tools that they will be using as they advance through school and in the work world,” she said.

The new math curriculum standards will not ban calculators in the early elementary classes as there is no way to enforce such a prohibition, but Knight said teachers “will interpret the standards as ‘we cannot use calculators.'”

The Board gave its final approval to this and the new math standards on Friday. I don’t really want to invoke the “back in my day” argument, but I did get a degree in math and never once used a calculator in any of those classes. I do think there’s value in using calculators for higher level math, mostly for graphing, and I don’t have a problem with using them in other classes where math is part of what you do – physics, for instance – but I have to agree with Cargill and Bradley here. There’s no substitute for knowing your multiplication tables. I’ve seen people whip out a calculator to multiply something by ten, or to add two two-digit numbers together. That’s crazy, and to my mind represents a failure of that person’s elementary education. Calculators have their place, and I agree with Knight that students do need to know how to use tools to help them do more things more efficiently, but knowing the times tables is a tool, too. Save the calculators till you’re at least in algebra.