Math education has been in the media spotlight lately, including features about Khan Academy, Singapore Math, Jump Math, and Everyday Math. Inevitably, the comments sections to these articles turn into flame wars between “traditionalists” and “progressives” about the best way to teach math.

But, judging from all the comments, the general public could care less about drilling versus discovery. The real problem with math education is:

“Damn kids these days can’t even make change without a calculator.”

You see, if we could just teach kids how to make change, all our math problems will go away and we’d all live happily ever after. So why don’t kids know how to make change? Because nobody made a video. Not even Sal Khan. No wonder math education is going to hell in a handbasket.

So here’s my contribution:

(FYI: I’ve redone this video at least 10 times and I’m still not happy with it. So please don’t criticize it. I know it’s crappy. 😕 ) Update: Check out this video “Count Money and Make Change” from TenMarks. Much better!

I’ve even madeHow To Make Change QR Code Cards. Keep some in your purse or wallet to hand out to cashiers and clerks that fumble when making change. Then pat yourself on the back for helping to fix what’s wrong with math education.

My name is Zack Burroughs, and I am a student in Dr. Strange’s EDM310 class at the University of South Alabama. I am in 100% agreeance with you that the school children of today use calculators way too much. When they just mindlessly enter information into a calculator and come up with a solution, they do not really understand the actual processes and steps of what they are doing. There are students in my higher math classes all the time that have trouble finding a common denominator!

I am actually a Secondary Math Education major, and I assure you that my students will not be using a calculator unless they absolutely need them. In my higher level Trigonometry class they will be forbidden. In Pre-Cal, students can solve so many problems without a calculator! To me, (1.2)(2pi)(60)(60)/(12)(5280) for example is just as good as any real solution because the student is actually understanding what is going on.

I think the issue is less polar than you claim. In my opinion, calculators are a great tool but can be over-used. My Ti-92 helps me because I can quickly explore tangents (what would happen if I do x? or is y math-legal?) and it has strengthened my understanding of the relationships between formulas and graphs and multi-variable equations. However, I now have to pause and think about simple derivatives or integrals because I have relied too much on plugging those into my calculator.

Zack, what’s so wrong with letting your students use a calculator? If you’re afraid that students will “mindlessly” enter stuff into a calculator, then it’s on you as the teacher to make sure that they use their minds. The calculator isn’t the problem, and banning calculators is not the answer. We have to improve our pedagogy and the kinds of things we ask students to do.

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Hi Frank,

My name is Zack Burroughs, and I am a student in Dr. Strange’s EDM310 class at the University of South Alabama. I am in 100% agreeance with you that the school children of today use calculators way too much. When they just mindlessly enter information into a calculator and come up with a solution, they do not really understand the actual processes and steps of what they are doing. There are students in my higher math classes all the time that have trouble finding a common denominator!

I am actually a Secondary Math Education major, and I assure you that my students will not be using a calculator unless they absolutely need them. In my higher level Trigonometry class they will be forbidden. In Pre-Cal, students can solve so many problems without a calculator! To me, (1.2)(2pi)(60)(60)/(12)(5280) for example is just as good as any real solution because the student is actually understanding what is going on.

Thanks for reading!

I think the issue is less polar than you claim. In my opinion, calculators are a great tool but can be over-used. My Ti-92 helps me because I can quickly explore tangents (what would happen if I do x? or is y math-legal?) and it has strengthened my understanding of the relationships between formulas and graphs and multi-variable equations. However, I now have to pause and think about simple derivatives or integrals because I have relied too much on plugging those into my calculator.

Zack, what’s so wrong with letting your students use a calculator? If you’re afraid that students will “mindlessly” enter stuff into a calculator, then it’s on you as the teacher to make sure that they use their minds. The calculator isn’t the problem, and banning calculators is not the answer. We have to improve our pedagogy and the kinds of things we ask students to do.

And Frank, I hate to tell you you’re wrong — the real danger is not the possible inability to make change, but rather the inability to figure the tip on a restaurant bill. Don’t believe me? Just ask my commenters here: http://chronicle.com/blognetwork/castingoutnines/2011/10/11/is-dependence-on-technology-the-real-threat/

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