Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Calculators, the math wars and the self-righteous. Where's the middle ground?

The math self-righteous, the all or nothing gang, always right, always my way  - they seem to be everywhere.  I am trying to figure out am I one?

Every week I receive posts on both sides of issues and the bloggers always land squarely on one side of an issue.  I just read a post/comment about not using a calculator as a tool for graphing for y = -2x + 1, one teacher mentioned wanting a paper and pencil understanding and another blog jockey called that just absurd - technology ahoy.

Yet at the same time the paper and pencil person did not mention how we prepare students for the world (maybe he/she does, and feels this is a basic concept), and the tech person made no mention of how we make sure the student really understands lines without simply typing the equation into the calculator (maybe he meant for there to be more interaction from teacher, coupled with deep understanding - but the comment read like an accusation).    

The real thing here is how does the calculator and the paper/pencil person tie the relationship of independent and dependent variables? Or how we estimate from a graph, or how we use slope in a real world application, or y-intercept.  Their statements miss the point of teaching a high level concept that can be applied in our world.  Their just making statements: calculator good ugh!  Calculator no good ugh!

Where is the middle ground?  I blog with no intent of having any feeling of success with this, because the issues lead to polarization.  There has to be a blended approach - basic understanding and an ability to use the tools available.

So there is a middle ground - rarely mentioned.  As teachers our students need to be ready for the world, that means calculators and the tools of the world (and don't let TI {Texas Instruments} fool you - the TI calculator has not been a typical tool in the world).    And the paper/pencil person is right - we need to be able to think of the basics and understand how to do by hand.  Cause without understanding how do you use a tool?

So I feel like I stand in "no-man's land."  I do both - on the basic ideas and concepts I expect proficiency with and without a calculator.  There are times we use technology to discover concepts and other times where I *gasp* lecture. 

Either way we get the skills needed for each student to be successful on their next step away from Juda High.  Problem solvers who are ready to use their tools and can do the basic math that is demanded of the workplace, tech school or college.   We use our tools - calculators, computers, etc. to address big problems and big concepts.  And we can set them down and do the basics.  It can go both ways....

Dammit I am one.