Thursday, March 17, 2011

CAS calculators

The importance of using calculators appropriately cannot be underestimated.  Percentages and compound interest are two of the most misunderstood topics in year 9 and 10 and many student errors could have been prevented with effective use of calculators.  This year my year 9, 10 and 2C classes all did compound interest at about the same time.  All three classes were able to use the CAS calculator to construct the equations required for reducible interest. 

Teaching calculator usage in year 9 should prevent some of the errors in year 10 and 2C because:
a) they will not be struggling with "how to use the calculator" next year (modes, cell referencing & formulas)
b) they will be able to calculate percentages of amounts with or without a calculator
c) they will be able to work with the idea of a period of time and know that this needs to be consistent across an equation
d) they will be able to work with interest periods other than annually
e) they will be able to identify simple and compound interest problems

There are many times calculators are inappropriate but in this context it is an engaging tool and the novelty helps focus students on a fairly dry topic.  It is unfortunate that the 2C class did not have this benefit as they are struggling with remembering what compound interest is and how reducible interest relates to it.  Finding time in the curriculum to promote appropriate usage is well worth the effort as this is one of the occasions where a calculator/spreadsheet is used in a real life context over pen/paper.  A good series of worksheets can be found at under the intermediate tab.  It does take some patience but students will quickly learn how to create spreadsheets well.  I would also show students how to use the fill range tool (under the edit menu) to make the process a little quicker.  It may be worthwhile to use MSExcel first in a computing lab.

It is obvious that many students have not seen how spreadsheets can be used in computing classes or are not making the cross curricular connections of how that knowledge could apply in mathematics.

A byproduct of the classes is that it was a good assessment checkpoint to see if they understood how to apply percentages of amounts and whether students could see how it fits within a multistage question.  The tens did very well making the transition from spreadsheets to the compound interest formula and I now anticipate that it will be an easy transition to finance mode for more complex worded questions.

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