Learning Math with Calculators: Activities for Grades 3–8


Teachers interested in the whys and hows of incorporating calculators into math instruction will benefit enormously from this book.

This book helps guide teachers in the appropriate use of calculators. The first part addresses a broad range of questions and concerns raised by teachers. The second part consists of a collection of classroom-tested calculator activities that develop children’s number sense and problem-solving ability.

Len Sparrow and Paul Swan
104 Pages

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Review by Katy Early, Mathematics Specialist, Chico California Unified School District, and Instructor, California State University. From the Fall 2002 issue of Intersection , a newsletter of the ExxonMobil Corporation and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). Reprinted with permission from Intersection, © 2002.

From the first page of the introduction, Sparrow and Swan set the tone for Learning Math with Calculators; this will be a sensible discussion of an often controversial topic. They identify and address head-on the issues surrounding calculator use in elementary grades and present five convincing answers to the question, “Why should we use calculators to teach math?"

Section One is a well-organized and fairly comprehensive series of  “Questions Teachers Ask.” I am a teacher, and these are my questions.

I appreciated the straightforward explanations of calculator features. The description of which practices are sensible and which are inappropriate for classroom calculator use will prove useful in teacher workshops I conduct. The series of questions addressing school policies on calculator use is thought provoking, as is the examination of the myths of calculator use, such as, “Standards have fallen since the introduction of calculators into schools.” For each myth, a factual, balanced response is offered.

As if we had saved dessert for last, the final segment of Learning Math with Calculators is a treat. There are dozens of calculator activities, rich in number sense, for grades 3 through 8. These serve to dispel the myths that were examined in Section One. With calculators, children . . . don’t have to think for themselves, . . .are mentally lazy, . . .are inhibited in their mathematical growth. Not if they are playing these games!

A surprising number of big questions and practical answers are packed into this book, making it a compact and accessible resource, useful in many educational settings. I highly recommend it to teachers.

Review by Robert Callahan, Hooker Oak Elementary School, Chico, California. From the May 2002 issue of Teaching Children Mathematics, a publication of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). Reprinted with permission from NCTM © 2000. All rights reserved.

Asking a Californian to review Learning Math with Calculators is delightfully ironic. In my state, instruction is governed by a curriculum document that declares, “Over the years evidence has accumulated showing the ill effects of calculator use in the schools” (Mathematics Framework for California Public Schools, 2000. p. 223). However, this concise and intelligently written book is a welcome response to California’s assertion.

The first section, aptly titled, “Calculators and the Classroom: Questions Teachers Ask,” touches on all important aspects of calculator use. It describes appropriate and sensible use, principles of good classroom practice, the role of calculators in mathematics teaching, and ways to use calculators to help children learn basic number facts. Each section contains a clearly stated summary of the relevant information, supported by available research. The guidelines and suggestions are thoughtful and cogent.

The second section is called “Calculator Activities for the Classroom.” The fifty-one pages that follow are a useful compendium of thought-provoking calculator investigations that will surely enhance students’ understanding of fundamental mathematical ideas and relationships. Some of the activities are classics and others are unique; all are valuable additions to the mathematics curriculum.

This useful book belongs in the library of any teacher who seeks to make effective use of calculators in the classroom and is one that you will likely share with colleagues and parents.

Closest to One Thousand
by Len Sparrow and Paul Swan

What’s Happening Here?
by Len Sparrow and Paul Swan

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