How Kids Crunch Numbers

In countless schools, pocket calculators have become as famliar as blackboards. Millions of students automatically whip out their calculators when number-crunching is needed.

So what's one to make of a recent study by Brookings Institution scholars that casts doubt on the advisability of letting youngsters become dependent on calculators?

The study's findings indicated that students who don't use calculators daily tend to do better on standardized math tests. And the kids most reliant on push-button figuring tend to be low-income minorities.

Teachers in poorer districts can say, reasonably, the children they teach need the help of a calculator, since they often lack a grounding in "math facts" like the multiplication tables. Many teachers believe calculators spark students' interest in math.

Still, the Brookings study raises anew the question of whether learning math facts and gaining some ability to do mental math aren't worthwhile exercises in themselves. Kids who learn to think with numbers have an advantage on tests.

The study may not be an argument for removing calculators from schoolrooms (though some schools have done this). But it indicates youngsters may be better off if they bring to class some mental math skills along with the machines.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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