Last week, 1,000 math teachers told me about their classroom calculator policy. Few disallowed them entirely, though many disallowed them on tests. One reason for disallowing them on tests kept bubbling up: calculators make some questions too easy to answer. “So change the test!” responded other commenters. This exchange was too provocative not to beam back onto Twitter, where I posed the question:
“Calculators can perform rote calculations therefore rote calculations have no place on tests.” Yay or nay?
I’ve summarized some of the best responses – both yay and nay – below.
@ddmeyer time for a curriculum review to reflect technology. Let's move forward already!— Carol Shiffman (@cshiffman) March 29, 2017
@ddmeyer too many of my students blindly trust the tech w/o deciding if answer is reasonable. need foundation to know if answer makes sense.— Coach Dicus (@coachkdicus) March 29, 2017
@ddmeyer The way we pose the question determines the nature of the answer. If we want to assess fluency, calculation items are appropriate.— Evan D Rushton (@E_Rushton) March 28, 2017
I see your metaphor and raise you one.
@ddmeyer Will the same logic be applied to spelling and grammar?— Patrick Honner (@MrHonner) March 28, 2017
@ddmeyer "Rulers can measure therefore measurement has no place on tests." Yay or nay?— Basil Conway (@basilconway) March 29, 2017
@ddmeyer That's a slippery slope that can bleed over to other courses. My phone can spell check for me, do we still teach spelling?— Andrew Forisha (@Mr4shay) March 28, 2017
@ddmeyer I say maybe. It depends on whether the rote calculations are the end or the means to an end.— sarah caban (@csarahj) March 29, 2017
Have your calculator and eat it too.
@ddmeyer Which tests? Classroom-y ones or high-stakes state assessments? I vote: have a calc section AND a non-calc section. Problem solved.— Cathy Yenca (@mathycathy) March 30, 2017
@ddmeyer Have more than one part: level 1 and 2, formulaic and algorithmic; higher levels asking for interpretation and insight..— Curmudgeon (@MathCurmudgeon) March 28, 2017
@ddmeyer I think the question should change from "what is 8x7" to "what do we do with this 8 and 7?" and "what does this new 56 mean?"— David Cox (@dcox21) March 28, 2017
The responses were overwhelmingly “nay”: the existence of calculators doesn’t mean we should stop assessing calculations. And I suspect the crowd that follows me on Twitter overrepresents people with progressive views on technology and education. Traditionalists will be even more likely to disallow calculators than change the tests. Those results have interesting implications for advocates of technology in the classroom.