Decimals

I’ve been meaning to blog, but after a long day at work, I usually don’t feel like organizing my thoughts. I don’t know how you all (#MTBoS) do it. Maybe this weekend, I’ll get around to posting my classroom pictures.

On Sunday, my church hosted a luncheon for the local college students to welcome them back – all alumni, faculty, staff, and students were invited. After the lunch, I was standing around, reading something, when I heard some of the college students walking by. They were apparently having a conversation about a math class:

Student 1: “It’s been so long since I’ve had to multiply or divide decimals by hand. It’s not that I can’t do it, but I wish my professor would let us use a calculator. It would be so much faster.”

Student 2: “My professor does the same thing. Sometimes I just want to check my answer.”

Naturally, I wondered about my own students’ dependence on calculators. I spend a lot of time with some of my 8th grade students – the ones I see twice a day in an “enhanced” remediation class – working on number sense and mental math. I use Lessons and Activities for Building Powerful Numeracy to introduce some strategies. Last year, when I used it the first time, I noticed significant improvements with many students. We also do counting circles and I’m going to try out Numeracy Ninjas this year, too.

But, the remedial class is only 6 – 15 students, depending on the year. In my regular Pre-Algebra and Algebra II classes, I don’t spend a lot of time on mental math because I feel like there isn’t time. It’s featured in the warm-up once a week, but other than that, I don’t do much to fight the dependence on calculators. Occasionally, if I’m working one-on-one with someone, and a student tries to use the calculator to find 3 x 4, I’ll grab it and hide it.

I get that calculators are a great tool for speeding up the process of simplifying expressions. But, I don’t have a clear idea of how to respect the technology without letting it interfere with numeracy. I wonder if those college students are benefiting from the ban on calculators or if it’s only increasing their frustrations with the subject. What is the right balance?

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