Calculators: A Current Trend in Math Education

“Every student in North America has a calculator, but fewer and fewer are learning how to do math without one.”

When I started tutoring collegiate math back in 2010, I worked with First Nations students at SFU’s Indigenous Student Centre as their Academic Tutor. The most common math course that I tutor there is FAN-X99 “Foundations of Analytical and Quantitative Reasoning”. It covers BEDMAS, Factoring, GCF & LCM, Fractions, Algebra, Polynomials, Cartesian Coordinates, Linear Functions, Inequalities, and Systems of Equations (see BC Math 10 Curriculum).

So it was more of a remedial course for students who struggled in high school math (see BC Math 10-12 Full Curriculum). Results and grades, as well as instructors and students vary, but I have found three common themes that match three common trends listed in this article – Trends in Math: The Importance of Basic Skills by Tom Loveless.

  1. Most adult learners who struggle in math in post-secondary were already struggling back in high school (i.e. age 13-18).
  2. Most adult learners still struggle in the most basic of math skills since elementary school (i.e. arithmetic, especially multiplying and dividing).
  3. Most secondary school math courses and instructors teach students as if they have already mastered these skills when they actually haven’t.

“All math instructors teach their students based on a curriculum, but fewer and fewer make sure their students master the basics before sending them off to the next level.”

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