Maths leader explores why calculators should be used more
We like to grab every opportunity to speak to teachers and education experts, so we can gain as much insight as possible into the best ways to use calculators in the classroom.
Recently, we had the pleasure of talking to Claire Clay, Lead Practitioner for Maths at Ormiston Academies Trust, who shared her thoughts on the value of calculators and why she thinks they should be used more in schools.
Claire spoke about how, over the course of more than 25 years as a teacher, her opinions on calculator use in classrooms haven’t actually changed. She still believes, as she did at the start of her career, that a clear distinction should be made between the theoretical knowledge students must learn and the calculations involved in applying that knowledge.
For example, a student learning Pythagoras needs to grasp that a2 + b2 = c2, and should be able to put that theory into practice when trying to find the sides of a right-angled triangle. They shouldn’t be spending valuable time writing out tricky calculations such as 18.42, when a calculator can do that for them in a couple of seconds.
Claire also offered the example of finding missing angles on a straight line. When students understand the basic principle that they have to subtract the values they’re given from 180, it should take them no time at all to find the missing value using a calculator.
“That, to me, is the real importance of calculators,” Claire said. “We shouldn’t have barriers to learning in the form of calculations, particularly when we’re trying to teach a new skill.”
Due to the nature of her job, Claire has the opportunity to visit various schools and observe lots of lessons. She noted that she still doesn’t see as much calculator use as she would expect, considering how much students will need their calculators when they come to sit their GCSE exams and potentially move on to A-level maths.
“I see an awful lot of time being spent on non-calculator methods, without the calculator being introduced at all, and I don’t know why we do that,” Claire said.
“We put a massive emphasis on calculations, and when students ask if they can use a calculator, they’re often told they don’t need it. But why not? The calculator is there, so why not use it?”
Claire also discussed how most teachers will have had the experience of reviewing test papers where students have had the option to use a calculator, but have used up valuable time working through manual calculation methods.
If calculators are being used regularly in classrooms, students will be much more likely to take full advantage of their device where possible in exams. As well as removing the risk of manual calculation errors, this will free up time for them to make sure the underlying theory is correct and to check their answers.
For teachers who are unsure about the best way to make the transition to more widespread calculator use in the classroom, Claire suggested making it a key element of year 7 lessons.
Students just starting their secondary education probably won’t be all that familiar with using calculators, beyond the most basic tasks such as addition and subtraction.
This provides an excellent opportunity to combine the new concepts and theory that students will encounter at secondary school with the tools they will use to explore them.
Claire explained: “We can change our way of thinking about using calculators in the classroom, so when we’re teaching adding fractions, for example, we’re also teaching the fraction button on the calculator, and we’re using it to mark our answers.
“The more we do that in year 7, and the more used to the calculator the students get, the easier they’ll find it when they have a greater need for those functions later on.”
If Claire’s words are making a lot of sense and stoking your interest in using calculators more in the classroom, you might be wondering what resources are available to help with the transition.
The good news is that there are plenty. Claire has even created some helpful tools herself, including a library of information cards that explain how to use key functions and complete tasks on the new fx-83/85GT CW, the entry-level models in the recently updated ClassWiz range.
You can access the entire collection of cards, as well as some supporting videos, for free on Google Drive.
Claire also has her own blog, where she has taken a more in-depth look at topics including the new Ans and Format keys on the models in the ClassWiz range.
We want to do everything we can to help teachers, schools and students by providing a range of resources created by experts.
On the dedicated ClassWiz help page, you’ll find a webinar recording, a series of short transition videos and a lot more.
You can also contact us at any time to discuss your school’s technology needs.