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Calculators and Technology: What is the Role of Technology in a Mathematics Course?

graphing-calculatorBy Raymond Reinhardt
Mathematics Faculty Member, American Public University

There are at least two approaches to the technology available to students who are taking a mathematics class. First, think about a calculator and second, consider the vast resources on the Internet to assist your learning.

A calculator can be a huge asset during a mathematics course. The purpose for using one should not be to avoid knowing some basic mathematics facts, like multiplication tables.  Instead, problems should be done primarily by hand, and then checked by using the calculator.  A student can feel extra confidence in his or her answer, having verified it on the calculator.  The current variety of calculators also includes graphing calculators, which can display a very accurate picture of a graph. Again, graphing should be done by hand on graph paper first. Using the ‘y=’ function on a calculator is an excellent way to check your hand drawn graph.

Do I need a calculator?

Just like paper and pencil, a calculator can be an excellent mathematical tool. Naturally, the more advanced the mathematics course is there will be more of a benefit from using the calculator. There are many types of calculators — some are designed especially for topics like statistics, engineering, or calculus. If you do not have access to a calculator while taking a mathematics class, you may be working at a disadvantage. Therefore, I strongly urge you to find a way to get your hands on a decent graphing calculator.

Keep in mind, that if you are not familiar with this type of calculator, you will need to spend some time learning how to use its many functions and nuances. A strategy that I recommend would be to consult with a friend who already owns one. Try to obtain the same type of calculator before beginning your mathematics class. Read through the examples in the calculator manual. Then, return to your friend, and have him or her give you a quick tour of its uses.

Should I buy a calculator?

The decision to buy a calculator is based on several variables. First, will you be taking only one math class, or does your major field of study require several? Future engineers, scientists, or mathematicians, should clearly purchase a high quality calculator. Next, do you have a friend, or relative who may be able to lend you one for a 16-week or 8-week class?  There are also internet rentals for graphing calculators as well that give you a less expensive alternative to purchasing a new calculator. Additionally, some office supply stores sell used graphing calculators. Check into these sources as you start planning out your schedule for classes.

All of the computer manufacturers like Apple or Microsoft include a basic computer in their systems. If you have a computer, you may already have a calculator that will be good enough for your course work. If you have an iPad or a tablet, you also have a ready to use calculator.  And don’t forget to look on your cell phone too. In addition, there are also a number of good calculators that you can find on the internet. A Microsoft Online Graphing calculator is located at http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=15702. You may be able to use this for your course work.

About the Author:

Raymond Reinhardt is an instructor of mathematics in the School of Science and Technology. He holds both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Mathematics. He has extensive teaching experience — having taught mathematics for over 35 years at the high school and college levels.

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