Recently I was looking through a second or third grade math text and was pretty amazed to find that it contained about four months worth of calculator lessons. Well, they called it something cooler than that but it was basically lessons on how to operate a calculator.” So really, how many seven-year-olds need four months worth of lessons on how to operate a calculator? I teach several math games classes, so I thought I ?d do my own very informal test.

In my six- to eight-year-old class of 14 students, nearly all of the kids already knew how to operate a calculator. And I ?m pretty certain they didn ?t have four months of calculator lessons (they ?re homeschooled and probably wouldn ?t be using one of those textbooks.) The few kids who did not, learned with one minute of instruction, and two minutes of practice.

More disturbing than the fact that the textbook publisher felt the need for calculator lessons is the national trend this signifies. Why in the world would our children even need to be using a calculator when they almost certainly do not have their math facts memorized? This New New Math ? (yes, that ?s really what they call it, and nope, the old New Math didn't work either) says it ?s just fine for kids to depend on a calculator and not have the math facts memorized as long as they understand how they got the answer. Memorizing math facts got a bad rap initially, as many kids were learning the math facts by rote. ? In other words, they could memorize the numbers, but had no idea what it meant. Ideally, why not learn both?

And we wonder why America is falling behind in math test scores. This dependence on calculators is rather silly, when you consider several things:

  1. No one always has a calculator on them when they need it.
  2. If you memorize the facts, you ?ll be much faster than the calculator.
  3. Upper level math is a heck of a lot more difficult if you don ?t know your math facts. And using a calculator will slow you down.
  4. A calculator will only give you the answer to the problem you typed in. If you don ?t know your math facts, how will you know if the answer is right if you don ?t estimate it? I guess you could type it in a few times to make sure… (which of course takes more time.)

Children shouldn ?t be allowed to have a calculator for their math homework until sixth or seventh grade, upper level math like algebra and beyond, or until they can go three ?four times faster than the calculator (the calculations can be done almost instantaneously in your head with practice.) I don ?t care if they play with calculators, or write funny upside down messages (like 0.1134). And granted there have been a few math pages where it really was warranted to use a calculator (as it would ?ve taken them 56 hours to complete if doing by hand). But it ?s the dependency on the calculator that we need to watch out for. If the use of a calculator is allowed too much or even promoted too early, the kids will want to take what they see as the easy way out. ? As educational consultant Aimee Yermish said,

My private practice is full of kids whose parents thought that way (…why bother memorizing facts?), and now have to pay me lots of money to teach the kids what they could have been taught for free in second or third grade. They usually hit the wall some time in middle school or in algebra I, where you have to use these math facts rapidly on the fly.

Read the complete article Why Memorize Math Facts? ?

If your child is being allowed to use a calculator early on, you might want to talk to the teacher. The teacher may not be able to do anything about it as they might have to follow a certain program. If talking to the teacher doesn't help, you can always ban the calculator at home for math homework and work with your kids to improve speed. There are lots of great games to play with your child that are fun and really do help memorize those math facts (which, by the way, you should memorize up to 12×12 since we happen to still use an English measurement system and 12's abound in that.) And if you don't have your math facts down, no time like the present!

Just another thing to get worked up about, if the state of our nation isn ?t enough for you.