Calculators Aren't Turning us into a Nation of Finger-Counting Simpletons

By Gary Cutlack on at

The pendulum of opinion regarding the use of calculators in schools has swung back into positive territory, with a new report finding that they help students of all ages engage with maths and formulate strategies for solving problems themselves -- as long as the teachers integrate them into lessons appropriately.

Those are the workings of the Education Endowment Foundation, which over the course of about a million pages [PDF] has presented its findings. The key discovery is that having an all-knowing sums machine can boost "fluency and understanding" of maths in general, with calculators also handy for, ahem, checking whether manual sums have been completed correctly. Teaching kids to roughly estimate the answer to a massive sum ought to take priority, though -- with the adding machine only brought in if perfect accuracy is required.

The report says: " As with any strategy, it matters how teachers and students use calculators. When integrated into the teaching of mental and other calculation approaches, calculators can be very effective for developing non-calculator computation skills; students become better at arithmetic in general and are likely to self-regulate their use of calculators, consequently making less (but better) use of them." [EEF via BBC]