I had been putting off writing about this until I found this post. I have yet to read it, and will do so after finishing my post, to compare the differences.

The Ministry of Education in Singapore will be introducing graphing calculators into the new A level syllabus. This is bad. Let me stress that I’m not a stick-in-the-mud techno-phobe. In fact, I make heavy use of Maple for my work, and believe in using computers for computations. But I certaintly feel that unleashing high powered calculators to students do more harm than good. I have seen students who can’t add two-digit numbers without calculators. Giving them calculators that can graph and do algebra would be akin to giving a chain-saw to kids who still can’t hold a knife. Simmons share similar views and wrote in the preface of his book of seeing students who instead of factoring [tex]x^2 + 2x +1[/tex], or some other similar quadratic, use calculators to graph and solve the equation.

The biggest benefactors are not the students but Texas Instruments. Do you know that they fly teachers and no doubt MOE officials, to conferences in Australia and other places, so that they can see and hear other people rave about TI calculators? The seed money has paid off handsomely, since TI can now ship 20,000 units of calculators every year to Singapore.

A calculator story:

One of my students (these are 16 year olds) had to calculate 20 sin (40) using her friend’s calculator and keep getting 0.642. The reason is that she just keyed in “20″ “sin” “40″. When I explained to her that she need to include a multiply, ie 20 x sin (40), her defense was that her own calculator did not require a “x”. Perhaps, she has a point, but I just feel that these advanced calculators are taking over the thinking of the students.

15 years ago, to compute 10 – 2 x 30 + 5. You need to remember the order of operations, and use your calculator according. Then Casion came out with something called VPAM where you just key in the exact expression and you get the correct answer.

Another calculator story:

This was a midterm for first year engineering undergrads. A flustered looking student raised his hand, and ask me if I could find a Sharp calculator for him as he did not know how to use a Casio calculator. I was flabbergasted.

I thought about it and decided I could not help him. I figured there was a very low probability that someone in the room would be carrying two Sharp calculators. If it was the final exam, I would try and ask but since the midterm was only 20%, I thought it would be a good lesson for him.

After 5 min he raised his hand again. All this while he was snorting away displaying signs of frustrations. “Can you help me change to radian mode?” I did not know whether to laugh or cry, and helped him.

To think that in four years, he will be armed with an engineering degree, working on real life projects. That last thing I want is another highway collapse because of miscalculations.