"Calculators: Vital Tool or Crutch?"
What ever happened to the slide rule?
What has happened to it, on campuses across
the country, is the emergence of the handheld
calculator, a remarkable pocketsized gadget which is
affecting teachingand learningfrom first grade to
graduate school.
On the whole, yes. But most educators are convinced
that it should never be given to a child who has not
mastered the basic four functions. For some students,
this mastery can be achieved in elementary school. For
others, it takes years longer.
Calculators are widely used on the Babson campus
in the classroom, for homework, and, when per
mitted, in exams. No collegewide policy has been set,
and most professors lay down their own rules, some
times after discussion with their students.
"If even one student does not have a calculator,"
says Asst. Prof. Margaret Weinblatt of the math division,
"I allow no one to use them in exams."
Prof. Earl Bowen, on the other hand, allows calcula
tors in exams even though some students may not have
one. If two students want to swap a calculator back and
forth during an exam, this is permitted provided the
student who is about to pass a calculator to a friend first
raises his hand so Prof. Bowen can be sure that the
machine is clear and that the answer has not been left
on it.
In all, 27 Babson teachers permit the use of calculators
in exams, while six do not.
Recently the Bulletin distributed a questionnaire to all
Babson faculty members, including teachers in the
evening MBA program, soliciting their views on the
calculator. Almost universally, they agree that it is a
convenient, timesaving tool, but some of them warn
that overdependence on it can lead to the loss of basic
math skills.
"I can't turn the tide," says Asst. Prof. Robert Maciel,
"but I do warn the students against overdependence.
They recognize themselves how easy it is to forget
arithmetic."
On the positive side, the calculator speeds up the
computation of problems and eliminates a lot of drudg
ery. The chairman of the math division, Prof. John
Saber, believes "it can help in the sense that the student
is not overburdened by messy calculations, so he can
concentrate more on concepts."
"Educationally, it is an aid," Prof. Bowen says,
"because more realistic numbers can be handled.
Traditionally, texts have used simple numbers such as
integers, easy fractions, square roots that can be taken at
sight such as .j25 = 5, and so on. Equations used to
look like this:
x2 + x  2 =0
Now we can use:
3.752x  21.43x + 17.962 =0
"The second equation is taken from a real situation,
while the first is easy to handle without a calculator."
Several professors expressed the opinion that, by
saving time with the calculator, the student has more
time to consider and learn the theory. Asst. Prof. Gordon
Roberts of the finance division finds that the calculator
enables a student to "consider more possibilities than
he/she could in hand calculations." In science classes,
Prof. Bryce Prindle says the calculator makes it possible
"to check experimental results before laboratory sessions
are over and take corrective action if necessary."
At the University of Southern California, Prof. Russell
Hardwick, who supervises freshman chemistry courses,
says that students who use the calculator in examina
tions have a tenminute advantage over those who
use slide rules. For this reason, he will not allow calcula
tors in exams until every student has one.
That day may not be far away. A simple calculator
can be bought today for $30 or less, and the New York
Times reported recently that, by 1977, the price may
drop to $10. Some educators predict that schools may
eventually build calculators into school desks, just as the
oldfashioned desk had a builtin inkwell.
The Babson bookstore carries a Japanesemade cal
culator priced at $39, but very few students buy their
calculators on campus. "They can get them cheaper at
Lechmere Sales or Jordan Marsh," says Charles
Maccini, the bookstore manager.
Slide rules have virtually disappeared from the campus. The simplest calculator does not do all that a slide
rule canlogarithms and square roots, for example.
But a good calculator goes up to eight or ten digits,
while the slide rule is limited to threedigit accuracy.
For younger students, a basic calculator can be
mastered in a few minutes, while a slide rule is more
complicated to use.
The Bulletin questionnaire revealed that, while there
is little disagreement about the value of a calculator to a
college student who has mastered the basic skills, Bab
son prof~ssors differ sharply about the use of calculators
in elementary and secondary schools.
"Elementary schoolabsolutely not!" says Prof.
Weinblatt. 'They will never learn to add."
Prof. Maciel thinks that the calculator should not be
used until college. Prof. Joseph Alexander, chairman of
the economics division, would not allow calculators until
high school, and then he feels that "students with serious
deficiencies in math should be discouraged from using
them."
Assoc. Prof. David Drinkwater of the accounting
division believes, on the other hand, that the calculator
should be mandatory after the fourth or fifth grade. "I
have both my third and fifth graders use them for their
homework." Both, he says, can already perform the
basic four functions.
Another point on which Babson teachers disagree
concerns the quality of math skills which today's students
possess. Asked whether Babson students are better
prepared in math than were the incoming students of a
few years ago, four faculty members said that students
today are better, five felt that they are about the same,
and eight consider them poorer math students. A dozen
others did not comment because they have not been at
Babson long enough to judge.
Comments varied from "Yes, students today are
better prepared" to "No, they are much worse; a large
proportion cannot handle elementary algebra" the
latter statement from an economics professor.
Prof. Bowen takes the view that most Babson students
have demonstrated aptitude in math by their college
board scores, but that they fall down in applying that
ability in college courses. He does find that incoming
freshmen tend to be weak in algebraic fractions and log
arithms, which should have been mastered in high
school.
"We tried offering a special review section, without
cost, to any calculus student who wanted it," Prof.
Bowen says, "but it didn't work. After the first session or
two, the group dwindled to a half dozen who didn't
really need it. These six all received good grades in
calculus, but they would have gotten good grades with
out the review sessions."
In teaching any mathematical process, Prof. Bowen
first gives small problems with easy numbers. Students
do these with pencil and paper, repeating if necessary
until they understand what they are doing. 'Then," he
says, "I give realworld problems, with nasty numbers
that drive you up a wall, and students can do these
either with a calculator or with the computer. This is
the approach of the entire math department."
Prof. Bowen believes that the danger with both cal
culators and computers is that "the world becomes a
series of black boxes. That is the thing we have to avoid.
If a student knows which buttons to push, but doesn't
really understand what he or she is doing, that is not
education at all."
Prof. Saber says that "if anything, the calculator hurts
the students' mathematical ability in that they are too
dependent on it." Furthermore, he thinks that the stu
dent who can afford an expensive, more sophisticated
calculator has an advantage unless the instructor
chooses both exam and homework questions carefully.
Following are the questions which Babson teachers
were asked, a tabulation of their answers, and some
typical comments:
Do you encourage students to use the calculator as
much as possible, or do you warn them against over
dependence?
17 encourage its use
8warn against overdependence
l2give no advice
"After all, we are overdependent on the automobile,
but it wouldn't do much good to be warned about it."
"I ask them to use pencil and paper for a time or two
until they understand the operation, then use the
calculator for repetitive solving."
"I warn them about losing their math skills."
Do you permit the use of calculators in the classroom?
In exams?
33permit it in classroom
27 permit it in exams
6do not allow it in exams
"If the exam has a lot of computation on it, yes."
"Yes, in classroom, but I discourage it."
"Do not permit on exams because some students
do not have them."
If you have established rules about the use of the cal
culator, have these rules been set by you individually?
Or by agreement between you and your students?
lOindividually
6in consultation with students
l3no rules



"No rules except no use of the HewlettPackard 80,
which does finance calculations internally."
"The math/science division is considering requiring
that all students have a calculator."
Does the calculator enable an average or below average
student to do better work, or is it merely a convenience
and time saver?
5students can do better work
20it is merely a time saver
"Depends on which calculator he/she is using."
"It may prevent errors in computation which anyone
could make."
"It enables the average or belowaverage student to do
more accurate work and so develop confidence."
"Like the slide rule, it is a time saver."
Does the availability of so many kinds of calculators give
an advantage to the affluent student who can afford to
buy a model which performs more functions?
14yes
20no
"There might be a slight advantage, but I do not want
to reduce the entire class to the lowest common
denominator in the name of misguided democracy."
"If the student uses a fancy calculator exclusively and
then takes a test where he is required to use tables for
logs or annuities, then he is in trouble."
Does ownership of a calculator sometimes increase a
student's interest and encourage him to undertake more
difficult projects?
17 yes
10no
6not sure
"Yes. A student is more likely to want to solve a com
plicated problem if he has access to a numbercrunch
ing machine."
"Don't think so. Remember, everyone can use the
computer, which is much more powerful, for nothing."
"No. It is like a security blanket for Linus."
Are the students who come to Babson today better pre
pared in math than were the incoming students of a few
years ago?
4yes
8no, they are worse
5their ability is unchanged
"New math appears to have been a flop."
"They are inadequate in most basic operations of
grade school levels."
"Students today are better prepared."
"No. If anything, the calculator hurts in the sense that
the students are dependent on it."
"Math quality is not better; in fact, I fear too early
dependence on the calculator reduces mathematical
abilities."
To what extent do you think calculators should be per
mitted in elementary school? In junior high or high
school?
Elementary school:
15yes
15no
Junior high school:
16yes
llno
High school:
21yes
4no
"I think students should be taught to think and reason
first. "
"The calculator should not be allowed until the stu
dent has mastered arithmetic."
"I would encourage their use at all levels."
"They should be mandatory after the fourth or fifth
grade."
"The calculator should not be used until college.
Students should develop their basic skills first."
"No to elementary and junior high. A possible intro
duction as a senior in high school."
"At the high school level, students with serious
deficiencies in math should be discouraged from
using them."
"I see nothing but good from the use of calculators.
Slide rules were once common in both college and
high school. The only reason their use was limited in
the earlier grades was because of their complexity.
Now a simple tool is available for students of all ages."
Thus the debate goes on. Meanwhile, as the price of
calculators continues to drop, this remarkable tool is
finding its way into the pockets and briefcases of more
and more students. It is estimated that between 12 and
15 million handheld calculators were sold in the United
States last year.
"Calculators are like television; they have their pro
ponents and opponents," says Edgar T. Canty, director
of the Babson Computer Center. "Nevertheless, as with
television, they are a fact of life and have to be used
constructively."
Assoc. Prof. Richard Bruno, chairman of the account
ing division, is one faculty member who favors the use of
the calculator at all school levels.
"The most expensive adding machine in the world,"
he says, "is a yellow 'E. Faber' or 'Ticonderoga' with an
eraser at one end." 
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