by Peter Weaver
. . . Calculators room. I don't think availability will necessarily eliminate the need to be able to calculate by hand. However, the calculator may shift the emphasis away from proficiency in hand calculations to a greater emphasis on the meanings of the operations and when they can be appropriately applied." Grouws recommends using calculators in combination with basic arithmetic skills by, for example, providing them to students to check handworked problems. But Horlick maintains that using the calculator for a combination of processes is essential. "You're defeating the purpose if you only used the calculator to check answers. The child wouldn't be learning to use the principles of the calculator." The primary question, in her view, is, "Does the student know what he's doing?" Much more emphasis must be placed on, "What does it all mean?" than on "How fast can you get the right answer?" Those most opposed to calculators have gone so far as to ban them from the classroom, fearing that the device could become a crutch and keep students from learning the basic mathematical skills. Another argument for calculators, though, is that they make complex and realistic teaching exercises possible (how many cubic centimeters would it take to fill this room?). First graders, Horlick says, love to plan a family vacation, calculating costs of gas, motels and food. A survey of teachers, mathematicians and laymen by MATHEMATICS TEACHER magazine has revealed that 72 percent of those polled opposed giving every seventh-grade student a calculator to use during his secondary education, but 96 percent agreed that "availability of calculators will permit treatment of more realistic application of mathematics, thus increasing student motivation." In Virginia's Fairfax County, math teachers voluntarily agreed to permit high-school students to use calculators for homework and for some class assignments, but to forbid their use on tests unless every student in the class has one. "With prices so low for calculators, it's no more a flight of the imagination to buy a calculator than it would be to buy a textbook," Springer says. When industry uses metrics and decimals exclusively, he adds, students taught to use calculators in school will be able to adapt quickly. There is one calculator for every nine Americans, and students who can't afford their own often borrow calculators from their parents. The device has become an essential part of training in statistics and computer science. By 1976, the price of some calculators is expected to drop to as little as little as $10. If it does, the possibility of supplying public schools with them, and consequently incorporating them into elementary- and high-school math programs, may become very real. It appears as though Deedee Pendleton could have used a calculator herself when she wrote her article on "Calculators in the classroom." Her opening sentence states that Conrad, a Washington, D.C., second grader, is 7 years 3 months and 5 days old, and that this figures out to 1 billion 296 million seconds. If she had checked her second grader's results with her own calculator she would have seen that his age actually figured out to slightly less than 230 million seconds! A billion seconds is actually quite a long time. One of the techniques used to impress upon the general public the differences between a million and a billion (particularly when the Federal budget is being discussed) is to point out that a million seconds is just over 11½ days, while a billion seconds is about 4 months short of 32 years! William A. Robinson, P.E. - Salon Mills, III. *** Tips for Buying A Pocket Calculator "Miniature. electronic calculators could become as common on kids' desks as pens. pencils and rulers." So says the superintendent of a major urban school system. As the price of these tiny mathematical wonders drops dramatically, more and more students will be able to afford them. Right now. you can buy a basic. four-function model (add, subtract, multiply and divide) for as little as $19.95. The lowest price a year ago was closer to $90. Next year, the price for the least expensive models could drop below $15. Whether a student should be using a calculator for doing homework depends on the math teacher you talk to. Some say the little machines are great and take a lot of the "dull, donkey work out of working with figures." Others say the calculators "could become a crutch and prevent the student from really learning fundamentals." Some compromise by saying "up to junior high school or so, students should do their homework the old way and only use the calculators to check their results." In high school and college calculators can greatly speed up project work in math. science and business administration courses. But, in high school students probably need more sophisticated calculators, which can retain sums in a "memory" and can do percentages or square roots. These machines cost around $70. Whether you're buying a calculator for a student going back to school or for yourself to use around the house (shopping, checkbook balancing). here are some things to look for: Keyboard. Are the keys hard to depress? Are they too close together for your fingers (pressing two down at the same time)? Do you know when you've registered a figure by a clock or a sense of touch? Number display. Are the numbers easy to read? Or are they in broken lines that tend to make eights look like zeros? Can you read numbers at an angle (some cheap models require reading head on)? Batteries. How long do the batteries last before changing? Some last only eight hours. other last 108 hours. Is an AC wall plug available? Logic Systems. Some calculators base their computing logic on a mathematical system. others base computing on a stacking system or algebraic system. Algebraic is easy for average users to understand because it works the way you would state a problem (100 minus 25 equals 75). warranties. Most manufacturers give one-year warranties and are pretty good about fixing or replacing defective machines. But, who has to send the machine back to the manufacturer - you or the dealer? How long does it take for repairs? For the inexpensive, $19.95 calculators, it probably isn't worth it to have them repaired after the warranty runs out. It would cost too much. A few dealers are giving two year warranties on machines costing $35 and up. Don't buy extra mathematical functions you won't need no matter how exotic and prestigious they sound. It's a needless expense.