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Doing math without a calculator?

  1. Sep 13, 2013 #1
    My university bans the use of calculator with any math class.

    What is your opinion on this? I didn't like it at first but then I realized there isn't any arithmetic in my math class so the calculator was useless anyways.

  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 13, 2013 #2
    They banned calculators...but they didn't ban fingers and toes!! HA!!! Takes that university administration!
  4. Sep 13, 2013 #3


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    Did they ban slide rules?
  5. Sep 13, 2013 #4
    In general my university does not permit the use of calculators on exams (unless otherwise specified - for example, some statistics or economics classes are allowed the use of calculators).

    I don't really find this an issue in my physics or math classes - in physics we are more commonly looking for an expression and don't bother giving numerical answers. In math the problems are usually "nice" enough that you should be able to do any arithmetic mentally with relative ease.
  6. Sep 14, 2013 #5


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  7. Sep 14, 2013 #6
    You mean, in science and math classes right? Was it really the university or the math and physics department?
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2013
  8. Sep 14, 2013 #7


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    I miss those days when my mind does all deh math. T_T
  9. Sep 14, 2013 #8
    I think its good. Graphing calculators are ridiculous, a rip off for the student is more than one way. Even plain scientific calculators, there really isn't any college math class I can think of that a calculator should be useful for.
  10. Sep 14, 2013 #9
    Calculators are useful for simple problems or steps you have done thousands of times but do not want to waste time on. I would be annoyed if I could not use a calculator in some of my classes, but I am not taking advanced classes so I probably will not benefit much from a calculator in the future either.
  11. Sep 14, 2013 #10


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    This is a good idea for math class. It might not be such a good idea for science classes.

    In your science classes, the math itself isn't the emphasis, but neither is the emphasis on the numerical answer. The emphasis in science classes should be relationships between variables. Ideally, a student could look at an equation and almost intuitively see the relationship. In practice, I think some actual calculations might aid in really understanding those relationships.

    I hope not. It would be hard to pass a Chemistry class that uses Raymond Chang's text book without some sort of calculating device. And if you look at the problems (and the solutions manual), one might notice that every single problem in that book is set up to be solved with a slide rule. His text book is kind of an oddity in today's world.
  12. Sep 14, 2013 #11


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    When I entered Engineering school, you had to use a long slide rule (for the sake of precision). Calculators were banned because they were far too expensive and only the rich kids would have them.

    Probably only the rich kids would have desk calculators before the Bomar came out, anyway. I understand that some profs had their problem sets run on calculators, and woe betide the student whose answers fell uncomfortably close to those solutions. (VOE)
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2013
  13. Sep 14, 2013 #12

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    Slide rules? Seriously? Slide rules aimed for public purchase haven't been manufactured in the US since July, 1976. Slide rules are a relic of a prior age.

    The reason for banning calculators in college math classes is that in most cases, they are not of any use whatsoever. What's worse is that where they could be used to help solve a problem, they hinder rather than aid learning.

    By way of analogy, imagine going to a convenience store while on a road trip. The gum, soda, etc. comes to $6.21. The store has a sign stating "No credit card purchases under $25." Not wanting a stash of ones in your wallet and a pile of change in your pocket, you give the cashier a ten, a one, a quarter, and take a penny out of the ash tray full of pennies. Nowadays the cashier is likely to give you a clueless, puzzled look. "That's $11.26. Just enter that amount in the cash register."

    The technical equivalent of that clueless cashier is a supposed college graduate whose first inclination is to enter anything remotely hairy into wolfram alpha. Don't be that student. Learn how to use a millennia-old calculation device, pen + paper + human brain. Most math courses are designed to be solvable using that age-old device.
  14. Sep 14, 2013 #13


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    The ban on calculators is to suppress cheating - most modern calculators support programming, and have memory where you can store notes. So rather than trying to figure out which ones to ban, they just ban all of them.

    The typical problem on the science/engineering exams - and I've seen a lot of them! - doesn't require a lot of calculations anyway.
  15. Sep 14, 2013 #14


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    That is ridiculous. That is one of the stupidest things I have ever heard. Did they also ban the use of computers and electric lights?
    A few mathematics classes for which a calculator is useful are algebra, calculus, arithmetic, probability, geometry, and history. A few mathematics classes for which a calculator is not helpful include none.
  16. Sep 14, 2013 #15


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    Yes... And one of the few things I miss about that age is STEM students with an intuitive grasp of orders of magnitude.
  17. Sep 14, 2013 #16


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    There are a lot of conflicting opinions here. Since everyone is contributing their $0.02: I think that the calculator ban is a good thing for physics and math, and even for engineering classes. If you're assigning rote "plug and chug" problems, you're already doing it wrong, and if the emphasis of those problems is on obtaining the numerical answer, then even more so.

    Amen to that! In my country we eliminated pennies, and cash transactions are rounded to the nearest five-cent increment. One time I was charged $5.42 for something, so I gave the cashier a ten dollar note, a quarter, a dime and a nickel. I got a blank and confused stare from the cashier, even though the subtraction should be even easier here than in your example. I think he was wondering why I didn't give him only the ten dollar bill.
  18. Sep 15, 2013 #17


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    Useful in getting the correct answer more easily? Yes. Useful in understanding why you got that answer, and the reasons that it is correct? No.

    Calculators should absolutely be allowed in science/economics/engineering/etc, since the math is not the main focus of those classes. However, in a pure math class, calculators are more of an impediment than anything else, since they allow a student to disguise their misunderstanding far longer than they would otherwise be able to, and thus when they do realize that they are lost, it can be much harder to regain understanding.

    (This also means that problems in pure math courses should be designed to work out nicely by hand, since being able to integrate by parts 16 times and then plug in irritating limits that give you an answer such as pi3/6243 + 18e5.5 is not going to help your understanding of calculus, but it is going to greatly increase the chance of a silly error).
  19. Sep 15, 2013 #18
    I think calculators should be allowed but the questions should be set in such a way that the use of calculators would take even longer than hand solving. Like in GRE. Because, in real-life a person will almost always have the option to use a calculator (cellphone calculators), it's better for them to learn when it is better to use it and when it is not.
  20. Sep 15, 2013 #19
  21. Sep 15, 2013 #20
    I think this guy brings up a whole boatload of valid points. If a computer based math curriculum were very carefully constructed I feel like this would work wonders. In my opinion, the curriculum would still need to contain computational exercises (ie. you would still need to teach students how to do mathematical operations by hand - especially addition, subtraction, etc.) because I think it would be important to do (simple) mental arithmetic in every day life.

    I also enjoy the fact that this would allow students to learn how to program which is very valuable skill.
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