Electronic calculators can help improve children's mental arithmetic, according to researchers from the University of Nottingham who introduced calculators into a Leicestershire primary school.
A report compiled by the three members of the university's Shell Centre for Mathematical Education and Leicestershire's principal mathematics adviser, Mr Alistair McIntosh, says there is a rich variety of uses for calculators in primary schools.
They found nothing to substantiate fears that the machines prevent children from learning to calculate themselves. "The calculator appears positively to encourage and aid the process," they said.
It enabled them to check instantly whether they were getting their sums right, to explore number patterns rapidly and supported the learning of tables by allowing them to be checked and practised.
It also emphasised the usefulness of mathematics and allowed the subject to be integrated with work in other subjects like science because more realistic numbers obtained from actual measurements and observations could be used.
"We find that the presence of calculators in the primary school positively assists the pupils in acquiring computational skills," the report says.
The ability to do simple calculations mentally and with pencil and paper was still important, though long division and multiplication might become the province of the calculator.
But the experimenters emphasise: "The three basic skills of good understanding of number and place value, facility in single digit arithmetic and the ability to check and to estimate the answer are essential."
The report, A Calculator Experiment in a Primary School, includes examples of how calculators can be used in infant and junior classes.
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