Does the use of graphing calculators in the classroom strengthen student understanding?

TeAch-nology.com's Teacher Poll of the Week
Does the use of graphing calculators in the classroom strengthen student understanding?
 Yes No, it dilutes the concept.

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TeAch-nology.com

For secondary school students in Grades 11 and 12, graphing calculators have become a staple supply requirement for math. Once they start dealing with parabolas and functions, graphing calculators can be invaluable tools. The majority of teachers feel that the use of these calculators help strengthen student understanding, although the results were certainly not overwhelming.

Many concepts in math are best learned by repeated practice. Remember reciting the times tables in elementary school? Repeated repetition made the recall of these mathematical facts almost second nature. The same idea can be applied to other areas of mathematics as well. Having students repeat a process many times helps cement the concept and teaches them how to answer the problem even when it is presented in different forms or formats. Word problems are a good example of this because they can be presented so many different ways. Students need practice and repeated exposure to solving word problems in order to gain confidence and understanding of the mathematical concepts involved.

The big benefit of graphic calculators is that they allow students to complete higher level math equations more quickly by doing some of the work. The result shows on the calculator without the student having to do the graphing work themselves. This speed allows students to complete more questions in a quicker amount of time, thus allowing them to practice the concepts repeatedly. If the student were required to answer the equation without the aid of a graphing calculator, the number questions they would be able to answer would be seriously decreased. As with most other concepts in math, the more times the equation is repeated the better the student comes to understand the concept.

More than a third of teachers who took this poll feel that graphing calculators dilute the mathematical concept they are trying to teach. There is definitely a benefit to having students do some problems without their calculator so that they fully understand the entire question. The time involved with doing this means that students will not be able to complete as many repetitions. Whether they can remember the concepts and steps to take to solve the equation with fewer practice questions is debatable.

Graphing calculators are just one tool used in modern math classes. Times change and so do the tools we use. When the abacus was first introduced maybe it caused a stir too.