Home > #MTBoS, A Level, Colin gets it wrong, Curriculum, Education Policy, KS3, Maths, Teaching > Why calculators should be banned.

Why calculators should be banned.

Sir, there’s a fraction in it. Have I got it wrong?”

“Sir, what do I do with this fraction one?”

“Sir, I get confused when there’s a fraction.”

All these phrases are far too common in my year twelve class at the moment. We’ve just finished c1 and are doing some past papers, and I’m fairly worried by the way some of them baulk at fractions. This isn’t a problem that is solely theirs though. Some of my year 13s sometimes have trouble with fractions too. It’s not an isolated problem either. I think it’s symptomatic of the “calculator culture” which we live in.

Students of all ages have become far too reliant on the infernal contraptions! My year 13s think I’m obsessed with triangles (so do my year 10s, 11s and 12s. Perhaps I am?! They are amazing shapes with endless possibilities though.). The reason for my year 13s is that I try to encourage them to calculate trig functions using triangles, rather than using calculators.

“Why? When you’re allowed a calculator in an exam?”

Because it’s quicker, because there’s less chance of error, and because it will ultimately make you a better mathematician.

This isn’t a problem that is limited to the sixth form either. I was observing a year 9 lesson yesterday on pie charts. The class are quite bright, and the tasks involved dividing 360 (ugh, degrees) by some nice numbers like 90, 60 and 12. When one of the girls near me reached for her calculator to divide 360 by 60 I took it off her. She looked at me in shock and I simply asked “what’s 360 divided by 60?” she said “6” without even thinking. I then asked her why she had reached for the calculator and she said “because it was there.” I then circulated the room and all the pupils were at it.

Recently I wrote a post on multiplication methods  which was inspired by a twitter chat on the subject and itself inspired a further chat. During one of them the someone inevitably suggested “just use a calculator”.

I don’t agree. I  think calculators are responsible for a major decline in basic maths skills. I think they are responsible for creating lazy A-level mathematicians. And I’m sure they will have cost many gcse students many marks in exams.

A while ago the government announced a ban on the use of calculators in primary maths tests. Perhaps I should have written this then. I thought about. I’m in complete agreement on this one. I’d go further and at least encourage against them for most things across all key stages. I don’t allow my pupils to use them unless it’s necessary. I want them to be fluent in the maths, not good at following instructions to type stuff into a calculator.

  1. December 13, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    A few things:
    1. Calculators aren’t banned in primary, but their use will no longer be tested.
    2. Banning calculators is madness. But having them just sitting around for use in maths lessons is too. They should, of course, be available for when it’s suitable, but not to just save students from thinking. After all, thinking should be our business!
    Interestingly, my experience of primary schools is that they’re usually stored away in a cupboard somewhere, brought out for a couple of lessons in Year 6 and never seen again. The new test changes won’t make that much difference there.

    • December 13, 2013 at 9:01 pm

      I’m fairly sure I never said they were banned, just that their use in tests was. I may have suggested I’d ban them, I’m fairly sure they aren’t necessary until a lot later.

  2. December 13, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    The fiasco is that they will no longer be allowed for the KS2 test, but the tests are not being rewritten. So paper B (or 2 or whatever) will still have questions designed for a calculator on it!

    • December 13, 2013 at 8:58 pm

      That would indeed suggest silliness, although the argument given in the article was along the lines of, “children need to be fluent in calculator use”, which I would dispute. They need to be fluent in basic maths first.

      The ks2 calculator papers I’ve seen are mostly doable without one, but the odd questions need changing and to leave them the same seems daft.

  3. December 14, 2013 at 8:47 am

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  4. Chris Smith
    December 14, 2013 at 9:02 am

    The girl that said that 360 divided by 60 was 60 should maybe have used her calculator!!

    Up in Scotland we still have national exams with one non-calculator and one calculator.

    • December 14, 2013 at 9:12 am

      Typing error! But thanks for pointing it out. I will ammend.

  5. January 7, 2014 at 11:50 am

    Q: (semi-seriously) How do you feel about slide rules?

    • January 18, 2014 at 8:32 am

      Slide rules are something I’ve never used, so I’m not entirely sure on their use. I think that they are just analogue calculators, so I supposed I would view them the same.

  1. January 7, 2014 at 11:25 am
  2. January 12, 2014 at 12:40 pm
  3. January 20, 2014 at 6:05 pm

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