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Date: 7/3/2013 1:16 AM UTC

Texting is a wonderful tool. I use it all the time. It's a quick and easy way to communicate with other people in situations where a face-to-face meeting or even a phone call simply isn't practical. In the span of just a few years we have developed an entire lexicon of texting shorthand that makes the process even less time-consuming. But imagine for a moment that you had been handed a cell phone as a toddler and grown up with texting as your primary, or perhaps only, medium of communication. The shorthand would no longer be a symbolic representation of words and phrases you already know, but the make-up of the language itself. Face-to-face conversations would be clumsy and awkward as you struggled to remember how to move your mouth to make the sounds that go with abstract strings of letters like "thx" and "ttyl." I'm certainly glad that I wasn't exposed to this new world before I'd had the chance to gain a firm grasp on the English language in its many forms, and I think most people would agree.

Now consider that this is almost exactly the way in which many young children have been exposed to the world of numbers and math: through the technology of calculators and computers. You can make all the same arguments for having these tools available as you could for cell phones; they are convenient and efficient, and who in today's busy world really has time for long division anymore? The use of calculators only becomes an issue when it completely replaces the processes performed in your head or on paper. As with texting, it is important to know the meaning of what you are plugging into the machine, and there is real value in learning to do it "the old-fashioned way" first.

I have encountered countless students whose very first instinct when presented with a math problem, no matter the difficulty, is to reach for the calculator. I admit I am often guilty of this myself. It can be a bit jarring, or even a little humorous, the first time you find yourself punching something like "11 + 6" into a machine designed to graph complex functions. As we continue to outsource our mathematical operations indiscriminately to calculators, however, we are allowing our own skills, along with our intuitive understanding of numbers, to erode. It is far from uncommon today for people to need the aid of a machine to do anything at all involving negative numbers, and multiplication tables are fast becoming an ancient relic.

Of course there are perfectly legitimate uses for calculators. Just as texting now holds an important place in communication, computers are an indispensable tool in today's math classes. The trick is to know how, and more importantly, when, to use them. So keep your calculator handy the next time you sit down to do some math, but before you turn it on try to give your brain a little exercise. Attempt the problem in your head, or at least come up with a rough estimate. Ask yourself if the answer on the screen makes sense. Don't be afraid of your calculator, but make sure its job is as your brain's partner, not its replacement. Lol!

Posted by Tess Fisher

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