I am surprised at the negative number of comments regarding using
calculators in mathematics. I have had success with them in the past while
teaching and now that my job focuses on one-on-one tutoring or small groups
help, I find them even more useful.

To give this some context, I am not working with students below the
precalculus level. Yes, many of them show up here with their own
calculators. But I am truly amazed at how little they are able to actually
use them. Many students have said, "I prefer doing it by hand" only because
they do not know the keystrokes. Once they are shown the menus on the
calculator, they slowly begin to use the calculator more for checking their
answers and then they do things by hand to check the calculator. They
definitely get more confident as they get more comfortable.

I have also found that the students' knowledge of the symbols of
mathematics increases when using a calculator. Math is a second language
and the grammar is a pup. For the calculator to do what you want, you have
to be accurate. Yes, it is frustrating at first but nothing drives home the
point of order of operations more than a couple of examples done out of

Having an accurate graph in front of you also does wonders for
understanding what domain and range and relative maximum and minimum really
mean. I have found students' understanding of concepts like those increase
as we talk about what the calculator is showing us. Great, you got a graph
but what is going on there? They hate the question at first because getting
the graph used to be the goal. The minute the graph is used to explain
something else, the calculator becomes more valuable. The words 'rough
sketch' drove me nuts because my idea of rough wasn't the same as everybody
elses. Graphing calculators eliminate a lot of ambiguity.

Having said all that...

1. How much class time must be set aside to teach keystrokes?
Significant. The students won't use it unless they know how. More than half
the students won't know where their manual is. If a new method is being
introduced, be sure to tell the students what the key sequence is.
I have written up handouts showing step by step how to calculate
one-variable statistics, for example. The students are welcome to the
handouts or they can go to the Math Center website for reference when they
need it at 2 a.m. The missing manual is no longer an excuse. And they are
thrilled when they no longer have to compute a standard deviation by hand.

2. Do you require that each student buy a calculator, or do you just use one
in class for demonstrations?
Most students already have them but yes, they are required. A lot of
students time share their calculators with their roommates or floormates. A
lot of calculators also get sold to other students at the end of semesters.

3. Has use of calculators increased pass rates, retention rates or anything
else?  Any negative effects?
Sorry, no info.

4. What degree of interest have your students shown in graphing calculators?
Again, their interest increases as they get more comfortable just
manipulating it. And asking them to describe what they see on the screen
"like you would to your mother" really works. They have to pick the graph
apart, or the equation, and really analyze what is going on.

Sorry this got to be so long.

Andrea Motyka

Director of Math Center
Washington College
Chestertown, MD 21620