The Best of Creative Computing Volume 2 (published 1977)

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Tips for Buying a Pocket Calculator (keyboard, number display, batteries, logic systems, warranties)
by Peter Weaver

graphic of page

. . . Calculators

room. I don't think availability will necessarily eliminate the need to be able
to calculate by hand. However,
the calculator may shift the emphasis away from proficiency in hand calculations
to a greater emphasis on the
meanings of the operations and when they can be appropriately applied." Grouws
recommends using calculators in combination with basic arithmetic skills by, for
example, providing them to students to check handworked problems.

But Horlick maintains that using the calculator for a combination of processes
is essential. "You're defeating
the purpose if you only used the calculator to check answers. The child wouldn't
be learning to use the principles of the calculator."

The primary question, in her view, is, "Does the student know what he's doing?"
Much more emphasis must be placed on, "What does it all mean?" than on "How fast
can you get the right answer?" Those most opposed to
calculators have gone so far as to ban them from the classroom, fearing that the
device could become a crutch and keep students from learning the basic
mathematical skills. Another argument for calculators, though, is that they make
complex and realistic teaching exercises possible (how many cubic centimeters
would it take to fill this room?). First graders, Horlick says, love to plan a
family vacation, calculating costs of gas, motels and food.

A survey of teachers, mathematicians and laymen by MATHEMATICS TEACHER magazine
has revealed that 72 percent of those polled opposed giving every seventh-grade
student a calculator to use during his secondary education, but 96 percent
agreed that "availability of calculators will permit treatment of more realistic
application of mathematics, thus increasing student motivation."

In Virginia's Fairfax County, math teachers voluntarily agreed to permit
high-school students to use calculators for homework and for some class
assignments, but to forbid their use on tests unless every student in the class
has one.

"With prices so low for calculators, it's no more a flight of the imagination to
buy a calculator than it would be to buy a textbook," Springer says. When
industry uses metrics and decimals exclusively, he adds, students taught to use
calculators in school will be able to adapt quickly. There is one calculator for
every nine Americans, and students who can't afford their own often borrow
calculators from their parents. The device has become an essential part of
training in statistics and computer science.

By 1976, the price of some calculators is expected to drop to as little as
little as $10. If it does, the possibility of supplying public schools with
them, and consequently incorporating them into elementary- and high-school math
programs, may become very real. 

It appears as though Deedee Pendleton could have used a calculator herself when
she wrote her article on "Calculators in the classroom." Her opening sentence
states that Conrad, a Washington, D.C., second grader, is 7 years 3 months and 5
days old, and that this figures out to 1 billion 296 million seconds. If she had
checked her second grader's results with her own calculator she would have seen
that his age actually figured out to slightly less than 230 million seconds!

A billion seconds is actually quite a long time. One of the techniques used to
impress upon the general public the differences between a million and a billion
(particularly when the Federal budget is being discussed) is to point out that a
million seconds is just over 11½ days, while a billion seconds is about 4
months short of 32 years!

William A. Robinson, P.E.

- Salon Mills, III.

Tips for Buying A Pocket Calculator

"Miniature. electronic calculators could become as common on kids' desks as
pens. pencils and rulers."

So says the superintendent of a major urban school system. As the price of these
tiny mathematical wonders drops dramatically, more and more students will be
able to afford them.

Right now. you can buy a basic. four-function model (add, subtract, multiply and
divide) for as little as
$19.95. The lowest price a year ago was closer to $90. Next year, the price for
the least expensive models
could drop below $15.

Whether a student should be using a calculator for doing homework depends on the
math teacher you talk to. Some say the little machines are great and take a lot
of the "dull, donkey work out of working with figures." Others say the
calculators "could become a crutch and prevent the student from really learning
fundamentals." Some compromise by saying "up to junior high school or so,
students should do their homework the old way and only use the calculators to
check their results."

In high school and college calculators can greatly speed up project work in
math. science and business administration courses. But, in high school students
probably need more sophisticated calculators, which can
retain sums in a "memory" and can do percentages or square roots. These machines
cost around $70.

Whether you're buying a calculator for a student going back to school or for
yourself to use around the house (shopping, checkbook balancing). here are some
things to look for:

Keyboard. Are the keys hard to depress? Are they too close together for your
fingers (pressing two down at the same time)? Do you know when you've registered
a figure by a clock or a sense of touch?

Number display. Are the numbers easy to read? Or are they in broken lines that
tend to make eights look like zeros? Can you read numbers at an angle (some
cheap models require reading head on)?

Batteries. How long do the batteries last before changing? Some last only eight
hours. other last 108 hours. Is an AC wall plug available?

Logic Systems. Some calculators base their computing logic on a mathematical
system. others base computing on a stacking system or algebraic system.
Algebraic is easy for average users to understand because it works the way you
would state a problem (100 minus 25 equals 75).

warranties. Most manufacturers give one-year warranties and are pretty good
about fixing or replacing defective machines. But, who has to send the machine
back to the manufacturer - you or the dealer? How long does it take for repairs?
For the inexpensive, $19.95 calculators, it probably isn't worth it to have them
repaired after the warranty runs out. It would cost too much. A few dealers are
giving two year warranties on machines costing $35 and up.

Don't buy extra mathematical functions you won't need no matter how exotic and
prestigious they sound. It's a needless expense.

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