Reaching out for the calculator has become a reflex when students see anything that looks vaguely mathematical. It is very discouraging to see students painstakingly type in “3*1/25” when presented with the fraction “3*1/25”. How did things come to such a pass, I wonder?
We are always talking about “real life” uses of mathematics. We should probably be thinking about the mathematical uses of “real life”. I am pretty confident that the same students can easily work out how much they will have to pay for 3 dozen eggs when a dozen cost $3. I am also sure they can work out the discounts in their head, choose the cheaper option. I don’t see hordes of people walking about in the supermarket punching numbers into their calculators.
I am aware of the term “innumeracy”, I know that lottery is a thriving industry, that people scare themseleves to death about Ebola, when they are more likely to be killed on their way home. But I am not talking about that. I am talking about the urge to pull out a calculator when encountering numbers in a classroom setting – even when multiplying by 100. It is almost as if having a calculator gives them comfort, and that is deeply worrying. I don’t care if my students do not take advanced mathematics, but I do care if numbers scare them.
How can I lead them from this fearfulness to fearlessness? This occupies a lot of my thought space these days, not that I have an answer for all that. It is an evolving story that I’ll continue to transcribe faithfully.