I began to use scientific calculators in the classroom in the mid 1970’s when using calculators in high school Mathematics became acceptable. Teachers struggled with the concept of calculators and did not change their examinations to cater for calculators. In fact initially calculators were banned from examination rooms. When they were allowed, teachers did not take them into account in the setting of the examinations. So students with good calculator skill finished the examinations early while those with poor skills foundered. The introduction of graphics calculators in the 1990’s created a further need for teachers to look at their assessment procedures. In fact graphics calculators allowed teachers to create real life problems to test their students.
In the 1990’s, Mathematics syllabuses insisted that technology Age calculator be used in the teaching and assessment of Mathematics. Included below are points that a young teacher should take note of in having students use calculators in assessment. These ideas come out of my experience of over 25 years of calculator use in the classroom plus the introduction of graphics calculators to my school during my years of head of department. The first set of ideas is for calculators generally. The second set relates to graphics calculators.
• Calculators mean normally less time is required to complete exam tasks than in the past. Often, using calculators means less working needed to be shown.
• Real life problems can be used especially with scientific and graphics calculators which have many different functions/procedures that students may use.
• Calculator-wise students may find alternative ways/approaches to solve the task/problem. Be aware of this and test out the ‘unexpected’ approach/solution. (After the examination, demonstrate this approach/solution to your class. Better still, have the student do it for you.)
• Students must be trained to ‘estimate’ what the answer might be before using their calculators (even with the four operations calculators). This should be an automatic checking procedure that you, as the teacher, are trying to create as a habit in your students. Teach them to look at the answer they get to check that it is realistic and/or life-like.
• Your assessment tasks should specify that calculators can/are to be used and students should be aware that they will need a calculator for the assessment task.
• In preparation for assessment tasks that require calculator expertise, make sure the students are given practice in all the calculator skills/procedures that they may need to use in the assessment tasks. Remember that you are testing their Mathematics/Science/Accounting etc… first and foremost and not their calculator skills.
• You may, of course, consider calculator skills important enough to test them in a formal exam. In your subject it might be a prerequisite before other assessment tasks. It should not, as a general rule, have a significant bearing on the final student report.
• Make sure you have extra calculators and batteries available for emergencies.
Ideally, all students have their own calculator to use regularly in class and at home.
Assessment using graphics calculators does not work effectively if:
(a) Calculators need to be shared. Different students take different times for the same task so the first user often gets extra time. The memory must be erased before each swap which takes time.
(b) Students have limited experience with them. Their task/s becomes mastering the calculator before they master the test instrument.
(c) Extra time has not been added to allow for calculator errors to be found and eliminated by the less able student.