Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Forty years ago handlheld calculators were born

Amidst all the wonders of the PC world, it’s easy to forget where it all started.

Forty years ago, Texas Instruments created the handheld calculator, and made it a consumer-friendly price; thereby opening the way for ‘bigger consumer calculators’ which turned into the home computers of the 70s and 80s.

Our favorite home computer companies like Commodore and Sinclair followed Texas Instruments (TI) through that passage way with their own computers before launching computers. So, four decades ago, history was made. TI’s first calculator weighed 55 pounds and plugged into an outlet. Compare that to TI’s and everyone else’s latest offerings and you’ll see how far technology has come.

But what immediate impact did it have back then?

Jerry Merryman, 75, a co-inventor of the hand-held calculator, said that Americans embraced it, educators were proud of circumventing repetitive, drill-based learning and instilling creativity and curiosity in students. These are the lessons calculators help facilitate,” he says.

Even back then, the debate began on whether calculators help or hurt students. Some educators believe that calculators students technology-dependent and mathematically insecure.

A fact that may point in that direction is that the United States lags in international math exams. But, really, isn’t that just a symptom of Americans not being as smart as Asians and Europeans who use calculators too and are still very mathematically minded!

Besides, calculator capabilities grow with students and enable them to achieve more. Elementary students get started on “Little Professor” calculators that can add, subtract, multiply and divide, then they move onto graphing calculators in later grades.University students nowadays are already using programmable devices that show algebraic formulas, graphs and word problems on the same screen.

So, really, isn’t the whole idea to facilitate brilliance in math and logic, rather than slow it down with tedious, mind-numbing manual calculations!

Mental math must be taught in Kindergarten, then once the basics are grasped, calculators can take over. Why not? What other way is there to grasp higher math.

Compare this matter to writing. Some people can’t spell, but word processing can allow them to express themselves thanks to automatic correction technologies. Our computers will be doing all of this work anyway. You can’t stop progress. What we need is to organize it’s application.

And remember where the word ‘computer’ came from: the verb ‘to compute’. We’re using a glorifed calcalculator everyday!



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