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Back in my teaching days long ago, I fought against the administration on one main topic: whether my students used calculators or not. This was back in the days before cell phones. I argued that students should learn multiplication tables in their head, and the administration said I should let my students use technology in the classroom (a calculator was technology). I said they needed to learn to use their brain, and they said students needed to learn technology. We came to an impasse and it was part of the reason I left the teaching field.

I learned the multiplication tables in fourth grade. The teacher gave us speed tests for them. Slowly we graduated up to a full page of multiplication problems (basically the tables all mixed together) which we had to complete in one minute or less. Those who did got to stay in over lunch recess and make fudge for the rest of the class. It was a fun reward. Teacher brought in a hotplate and the ingredients that we stirred together and cooked. After lunch, our room smelled so good! Right before the final bell, we got to hand out our fudge to the rest of the class. I still use the multiplication tables in my head. I don’t need to pull out a calculator or paper and pencil every time I need to multiply or divide something small.

I wanted to pass that skill on to my students, but when I had a sophomore that didn’t know what 24 divided by 6 was without a calculator, I knew times had changed. Her parents weren’t particularly concerned about it. If she needed to carry a calculator around all her life, it was okay with them. Of course, now we do carry a calculator everywhere with us, so I must admit I was short-sighted.

My point was we have this wonderful machine between our ears that we carry everywhere with us. It’s programmable, upgradeable, rechargeable, and portable. Keeping it updated is very important so that it can be used whenever we need it. It needs to be honed and strengthened just like an athlete getting ready for a game. Be careful what you download into it because there’s some bad apps out there. If you don’t use it, it becomes an unpowered dead weight with outdated software that runs like a slug. Use your brain so it’ll be strong and ready to help. That way, if you forget your cell phone somewhere, you can still function.

Next week, more on my weird teaching experiences.

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