The problem, however, with calculators goes deeper than not knowing how to add, subtract, multiply and divide manually. In both chemistry and physics classes, it is now common to see numerical answers on students' test papers that do not make sense. The reliance on calculators has turned into a lack of sense of magnitude, a grave loss in meaning. Computers, information and communication technology are indeed tools. Tools do make our tasks faster and more efficient. Unfortunately, tools are also capable of shaping and modifying us.
I was quite amazed on how the computer keyboard helped my son recognize and appreciate letters. There are engaging computer activities out there that could really help children learn the alphabet. There are programs available for free on the internet that could help students learn to read. And there are sites that provide resources for advanced subjects. See "ICT and DepEd K to 12: Different Angles, Same Conclusion" for some examples. Thus, on one hand, it may seem that introduction of technology into classrooms is a sure winner. Back when I was in high school, scientific calculators were not yet widely available and I could not afford to have one. So in trigonometry, we were using tables. That was quite tedious so it paid to commit into memory the sine values of special angles like 0, 30, 45, 60 and 90 degrees. And knowing the sine values at these angles, one can derive the cosine, tangent, cotangent, secant and cosecant values. Having to work with these functions manually, one did have a greater opportunity to appreciate what they represent. Thus, the downside of technology is that the use of scientific calculators can take the entire picture into a black box.
It seems evident that applications of technology into the classroom need to be weighed appropriately. The following is how my computer screen looks as I type into Google "spell chegk":
My PhD mentor told me a story behind a discovery she made. In graduate school, they had weekly meetings on current advances in the field of physical chemistry. An recent article from a journal was assigned for each of these meetings. One of those weeks, the article that was assigned did not catch my mentor's interest that greatly so her eyes wandered to another article, the one printed on the next page, which inspired her to make that one discovery. There is a website called "StumbleUpon", but this is not the serendipity illustrated by my mentor's experience. There is a difference with actually handling printed material.
Classroom management and student assessment likewise have technology solutions. The following is an excerpt from Juan Williams' article "Fixing our schools -- here are solutions that work":
...The key is making learning materials from texts, tests and even assignments available electronically. That allows the students, their parents and teachers to track a student’s performance in real time.As in the other cases, it must be emphasized that technology is a tool that makes things work faster or more efficient. Having such a software or program does not guarantee a caring teacher who knows each and every student.
It enables teachers and parents to identify a student who is falling behind and give that young person extra help, specifically tailored to get them back on track and moving up....
The use of technology must be weighed and evaluated according to its purpose. Without careful attention, we may simply miss the big picture....