Should students be allowed to use calculators in class in Montgomery County Public Schools?

Those who teach higher-level math in high school have often complained that an over-reliance on calculators in earlier grades has produced students who know how to plug in numbers to get the answer to a problem, but don’t know how to solve it on their own.

The issue came up again during last week’s Board of Education discussion on the new model of math instruction under Curriculum 2.0. The new MCPS elementary school curriculum was rolled out during the 2011-2012 school year in kindergarten through first grade in all schools and second grade in many as well.

When it comes to calculators, the good news is that change is in the air.

At Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg, for example, teachers have already begun revising calculator use to reduce students’ dependency, Principal Carole Working told the board.  

And Deputy Superintendent Frieda Lacey, who is retiring this month after 41 years with MCPS, said that the issue has come up with a work group that’s been focused on improving math instruction in county schools.

“We really need to pull together a comprehensive paper with guidelines about this issue,” she said. “It’s one of those hot topics for us that we really need to address and deal with as we’re rolling out Curriculum 2.0.”

MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr cautioned, however, that determining when and how students should calculators in the classroom is “really complex” and not an “either/or” decision. That’s because while students should know the basic skills of math calculation, like the multiplication tables, they also need to know how to use technology to apply them.

“We have to be constantly calibrating and recalibrating and adjusting on when you use those things and when you don’t,” he said.

We’ll have to stay tuned to see what all this means for calculator use in the classroom come the next school year.

Julie Rasicot

Julie Rasicot can be reached at julie.rasicot@bethesdamagazine.com