Calculators’ effectiveness in mathematics classes, long a source of debate, depends in large measure on students’ pre-existing knowledge of basic math, a recent study found.
Researchers who examined the use of calculators in elementary schools found that for students who had a solid understanding of multiplication, calculator use did not have an impact on performance. But among students who struggled with multiplication, calculators had a negative effect, according to the study, co-authored by Bethany Rittle-Johnson, an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tenn., and Alexander Oleksij Kmicikewycz, who worked on the project as part of his undergraduate research.
The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, also found that students using calculators were able to practice more problems and had fewer errors. The findings suggest that it is important for students to learn how to calculate on their own, but after that, calculator use is acceptable, even for performing basic multiplication, Ms. Rittle-Johnson said in a statement released by the university.
A version of this article appeared in the October 08, 2008 edition of Education Week