Is Your Child Calculator Dependent?


Apr 21, 2001


The Bottom Line Be wary if your elementary or middle school aged child is using a calculator for homework.

Aloha! As a professional math tutor, I have been exposed to a wide variety of students over a period of about fifteen years. What I have noticed is that as the calculator has become more and more accepted as an everyday tool, the ability to do basic mental math has declined. I am not saying that students are becoming slower each year, but their increasing dependence on the calculator is a growing trend that warrants concern.

I do embrace technology but it does concern me when I see middle and high school students who do not have their multiplication tables memorized or cannot do single digit addition in their heads. Calculator dependence is often to blame for this problem.

I have met with many parents who do not know why their child is doing poorly in math. "Johnny does well on his homework, but does not test well." What is too frequently the case is that their child is using a calculator to help him complete the homework. During a test in which they are not allowed to use a calculator, Johnny will have a lot of careless mistakes and/or will be unable to complete the test in the allotted time.

I have also worked with many middle and high school students who do not have a strong sense for numbers. They simply believe whatever the calculator displays. They do not know if an answer is reasonable or not. They just feel that the calculator is smarter and faster than they are so they become accustomed to believing whatever it displays. This is another result of calculator dependence.

This dependence may frequently start in the upper elementary school level. I just wanted to warn parents to be on the lookout for this. Although there are exceptions to this, I generally don't believe elementary students should be using a calculator at all. It makes sense that the earlier this dependence is caught, the easier it will be to set your child on the proper path.

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