Calculators in the Math Classroom

by Jim McCue
(Boise, Idaho)

Hello Fellow Math Teachers,

I have another survey question for you:

Do you allow calculators in your math class and why ?

I was shocked to see students who did not know their times table, could not do simple mind calculations like adding 8 + 7,multiply by 10 or 100.

What age do you believe students should be allowed to use calculators in class?

I strongly believe the use of calculators in math classes is having a direct impact on students ability to use their own minds to perform simple 'mental' calculations.

This ability to do 'lighting math' as my college accounting professor called it is being lost by the current generation of students in schools.

Now I teach community college math and I observe the younger students struggle with this while the older students are quick in their minds doing the mental calculations.

While I believe a calculator should be used for difficult problems such as 8543.3 divided by 567.4, students should be able to divide 85 by 5 !! at the very least be able to perform 'side work' to determine the answer.

Thanks for your input,

Jim McCue

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Jan 09, 2020
It’s not supposed to be easy.
by: Anonymous

Please remember that for some students it may be as hard to learn the simple things as it is for teachers to teach them.
Everyone is different in this world some people will require a calculator and some people will not. I do not understand why this is so hard for some people to see. Do we not live in a world where we are all excepted and get opportunities to move forward with our education our lives in our careers. I understand that it’s not easy to teach some students but I also know that that’s part of the job and it’s supposed to be hard challenging and rewarding. So please find that student that does need to use a calculator and help them. It might be more work for you but they are worth it. Without students that want to learn teachers don’t have a job.

Nov 03, 2015
by: Anonymous

good post

May 27, 2015
Students must learn their Times Table !
by: Jim McCue

hi Mick,

If Community College Students need to build their math pyramid and that starts with the basic skills ( +, -, *, /)

They need to learn/memorize their basic ( +, -, *, /) tables. 7 + 5, 7-5, 7*5, 7/5 should be done in the mind, not calculator.

I teaching Developmental Algebra at at Community College in Idaho and when we hit factoring polynomials and students need to 'see' the Greatest Common Factor (GCF) from: 3x^2 + 21x -18 and cannot use the 3 times table to see the GCF is 3 then how do you teach that ?

That's why we require students to pass a timed quizzes focusing on the basic ( +, -, *, /) operations !

Hope this helps,

May 26, 2015
Using Calculators for the Special Ed. Population
by: Anonymous

I truly hope to get some responses to my post, though I realize that this is an old thread. I have been asked to write mathematics curriculum for my community college. The developmental math classes, from the lowest to an intro to algebra) have been moved to our continuing ed. program. What strikes me is this: if an 18-20 year old has still not learned basic math facts (4 basic operations) why do we believe they can learn them now? For many students who formally were IEP'ed there disability may lie in the memorizing of facts. I propose that putting a calculator in their hands can help them to focus more on the problem solving end of a problem. I look forward to reading yor responses.


Jun 09, 2014
Using Online Quizzes to prove Mastery of Times Tables
by: Jim McCue

Update: June 9, 2014

At my Community College where I am the Developmental Math Coordinator we now have students prove their basic addition, subtraction, multiplication & division via an online math quiz.

For our Pre-Algebra, we offer 4 one minute challenge quizzes for the basic operations where students must answer 10 questions in one minute thus giving just 6 seconds to look, process in their minds the answer and input it into the computer. Thus taking away the students ability to use a calculator. Students must earn 80% score to move on.

For our Beginning Algebra & Intermediate Algebra we require students to pass with an 80% score on both a 2 minute & 3 minute multiplication quiz.

Working 1st hand with adults of all ages, I have witnessed many students who cannot do their basic multiplication tables in their head.

I strongly encourage ALL math teachers to require the learning/memorization of the times tables along with the basic +, -, / which should be done without a calculator !


Jun 09, 2014
Adult Literacy volunteer tutor
by: Anonymous

Please, Please, teach your students to think and use paper and pencil until they are able to solve problems using adding, subtraction, multiplication, and division. About 90% of the adults I try to help obtain a GED have to go back to those basic operations, learn how to do them, and estimate an answer to compare with an answer they get on the calculator. They simply can't understand an answer they have arrived at on the calculator can't possibly make sense until they can think with the basic operations. I often remind them that "Calculators and computers are wonderful, but they have no brains. They are totally dependent on the brain that is operating them."

Jul 18, 2011
My experience
by: Sketch

I have recently completed an Access to Higher Education course in the UK and as part of the course we studied A-level maths. During class time I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with other student's lack of ability to perform simple calculations in their heads and their over-reliance on calculators. While my maths tutor had no problem with this and encouraged the class to depend on their calculators I would openly speak up and correct him, insisting that knowing WHY the answers are found is vastly more important than being able to produce a correct answer. I understand why this has troubled you to the point of posting a survey but can I just add that relying on calculators is not something exclusive to the younger generations as I was the youngest person on my course by quite a bit. The average age of the class was around 30-35 and sadly the majority of the class would use their calculators for sums as simple as 3 times 9 (I kid you not).

Sketch, age 20.

Dec 31, 2009
Calculators in the Classroom
by: Karin

Hi Jim,

Another great survey question! I think that this is a very frustrating problem for many teachers! It's difficult to teach the higher level skills when students can't get passed the basic math facts. Then when you throw integer rules on top - it not only adds to our frustration, but to our students' frustrations as well!

Unfortunately, I believe that many students in the elementary school are not encouraged to "memorize" their math facts. I believe that this is due to how the curriculum has changed over the years! Since we have moved away from traditional ways of learning, there is a serious impact on our students in higher level math classes. The question is: what can we as teachers do?

I don't have a solution, but let me think on that one....

I did not allow calculators for purposes of calculating. After learning the Algebra skills (on paper) I did teach students how to use the graphing calculator functions to check their answers. I felt that this was preparing them for higher level math classes!

We'd love to hear your ideas if anyone else experiences this problem!

To Your Success,

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