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Beyond Expectations:

Number one 1995


Susie Groves and Jill Cheeseman
Deakin University

The National Statement on Mathematics for Australian Schools recommends that all students
use calculators at all year levels from kindergarten to year 12, (5 to 18 year olds) and that
calculators be used both as instructional aids and computational tools. However, research has
shown that, despite overwhelming support for the early introduction of calculators, a majority of
infant teachers rarely or never use calculators in their classrooms.

The New Zealand curriculum document, Mathematics in the New Zealand Curriculum also
encourages the use of calculators in the classrooms from J1 to form 7 (5 to 18 year olds). This
is new for J1 to standard 3 students (5 to 10 year olds) and their teachers, as the previous
syllabus had no particular requirements for using calculators.

The Calculators in Primary Mathematics project

The Calculators in Primary Mathematics project was based on the premise that calculators are
not just computational tools but are highly versatile teaching aids which have the potential to
radically transform mathematics learning and teaching.

In 1990 all children at kindergarten and grade 1 levels in six schools in Melbourne were given
their own calculator to use in class. The project moved up through the schools to grade 4 level
in 1993, with new children joining the project as they started school. In total about 80 teachers
and 1000 children participated in the project. An extensive programme of data collection and
analysis - including classroom observation, teacher interviews, written tests and interviews with
children - was used in order to attempt to answer the research questions.

Teachers were not provided with classroom activities or a programme to follow. They were
regarded as part of the research team investigating the ways in which calculators could be used
in their mathematics classes. Feedback and support was provided through regular classroom
visits by members of the project team and through the sharing of activities and discussion of
issues at network meetings and in the project newsletter.

The project demonstrated that calculators have an important role to play in the infant classroom.
The calculator can be used in many imaginative ways within the "normal" range of classroom
activities, as well as to provide a mathematically rich environment of its own for children to
The presence of the calculator allowed children to display a knowledge of mathematics which
often surprised their teachers - especially in the areas of large numbers, negative numbers and
decimals. However, the wide range of skills and understandings present in any classroom
appeared to be highlighted by the presence of the calculator.

The findings of the Calculators in Primary Mathematics project have significant implications for
the learning and teaching of primary mathematics.

How young children use calculators

In order to use calculators with young children, teachers need to realise that calculators can be
used for purposes other than "number crunching". Research carried out by the project showed
that while teachers express a high level of support for "creative" uses of calculators, this is not
matched by their teaching practice. Therefore, a first step towards realising the full potential of
the calculator in infant classrooms is to demonstrate ways in which it can be used for purposes
other than mere computation.

Classroom observation in the Calculators in Primary Mathematics project revealed four major
ways of using the calculator. They illustrate the tremendous potential of calculators as a
teaching aid and have lead to far-reaching changes in the way in which mathematics is
approached in many classrooms.

Using the calculator as a recording device

Young children spontaneously used their calculators as a "scratch pad" to record their
telephone numbers, their scores when playing games, interesting patterns and even the date.
Writing numerals can be a time-consuming and onerous task for young children, so calculators
provide the opportunity to record (often very large) numbers easily and change them at will.

Teachers exploited this spontaneous use by devising many activities which only used the
calculator as a recording device. An example of such an activity was number lineup. A small
group of grade 1 and 2 children entered a number of their choice into their calculators and then
ordered themselves according to their calculator displays. More and more children were added
to the "line-up", with each new child needing to find their correct position. Children frequently
included negative or very large numbers in this activity and exhibited a quite sophisticated
knowledge of the number system.

Using the calculator to count

One of the most effective uses of the calculator with young children is as a counting device. The
built-in constant function on the calculator allows children to count by any number, from any
starting point they choose. By watching the display, children can match the numerals to the
words for small numbers; see what number comes before or after any given number; learn
about place value; and make discoveries such as how to count by odd numbers on their
calculator, or how to count backwards.

One kindergarten teacher initiated an activity - she called it number rolls - which became
popular with many

project teachers. Long strips of paper were used to vertically record counting on by a constant.
Many children began by counting by 1's and continued to do so. Others, however, moved on to
counting by numbers such as 5, 10 or 100. At. least one child observed that counting by 9's
usually leads to the units digit decreasing by one each time, while the tens digit increases by
one. This activity continued for a long period of time. In the classroom where it started, just as
the teacher was ready to abandon the activity, she noticed that many children were beginning to
make conscious predictions about the next number in their sequence - even when they could
not necessarily read the numbers aloud.

Many children used their calculators to count into the thousands and tens of thousands, while
others counted backwards. During a classroom visit Daniel, a kindergarten child supposedly
engaged in a quite different activity, wanted to show how he could count by 50's to 4000 on his
calculator. Before he could be stopped, he had reached 64 250, which he was able to read
aloud without hesitation. In another kindergarten grade, Ben had counted up to 17 900 by 100's
on his number roll. When asked what number would be reached after pressing equals two more
times, he wrote 18 100, although he read it as eighteen hundred and one.

In another kindergarten class, where children had been discussing and drawing "What lives
underground?", Alistair said "minus means you are going underground". When questioned what
would be the first number above the ground, he said "zero". In another kindergarten class, Kylie
confidently used her calculator to count backwards and recorded her findings (see Figure 1).
Figure 1

A grade 2 child, Sebastian, after playing a game of stepping stones on the classroom floor went
away to make a set of his own stepping stone numbers. His teacher had used whole number
steps, with numbers in the range 0 to 25. Sebastian also began his steps at 0. He chose,
however, steps of tenths, reading them as "point 1, point 2 ", etc. He managed the step after 0.9
in this way: He said "point 9, point 10, no that's 1". Having made the bridge, he then continued
easily. A problem arose when Sebastian began to use his stepping stones in an actual game
because the operations he chose took him below zero. He stopped for a moment to consider
what would happen if the numbers "hadn't been points". Soon he had produced stepping stones
for counting backwards into the negative decimal numbers.

Using the calculator as a computational tool

Calculators were frequently used as computational tools, but rarely just to find answers for their
own sake. Rather, calculators were used to solve real-life problems (where the size of the
numbers would otherwise have been prohibitive) or to carry out numerical investigations.

An example of how calculators allowed children to work with larger numbers and solve more
realistic problems was the tree survey carried out by grade 1 and 2 children, who worked in
groups to tally the number of small, medium and large trees in the large, heavily treed school
ground. Children used several different methods to count the trees, including tallying with paper
and pencil and counting with their calculators. The calculator allowed the total number of trees
(over 150) to be found. Groups obtained different answers, which lead to a lengthy class
discussion about which numbers to use when representing the results in graphical form.
Children made considerable progress towards developing an understanding of quite
sophisticated statistical concepts. The following year the same teacher repeated the tree survey
with her grade 2 class. On this occasion, children were confronted with decimals while
discussing how to make a pictograph of their results. A group of 7 children needed to make 64
trees to paste onto the chart. When asked by the teacher how many trees each child in the
group would need to make, children spontaneously used their calculators to find that 64 + 7 =
9.1428571. The teacher recorded the answer and asked what it meant. A child quickly replied:
"It is 9 and a bit, so if we made 10 each we would have some left over -actually we would have
6 left over".

In another activity, kindergarten children sorted the teddy bears they had brought to school
according to colour and counted how many teddy bears there were altogether - some counted
aloud by 1's, some by 2's, others used the constant function on their calculators, while a few
used the calculator to find 7 + 4 + 3 + 4 = 18. When they went back to their tables to record
what they had done, some children drew bears, others wrote number sentences (see Figure 2),
while many struggled to accurately record what they had done. Byron (see Figure 3)
immediately wrote the number sentence shown above and then proceeded to find as many
ways as he could to get 18 on his calculator as the sum of other numbers - e.g. 9 + 1 + 8 and,
even more remarkably, 6 + 6 + 6. Although the calculator was performing the actual additions
for him, he needed to predict which numbers would lead to a sum of 18 and only used the
calculator to confirm or contradict his predictions.

Using the calculator for exploration

There were teachers at all grade levels who encouraged free play with calculators as part of the
normal mathematics programme. Some teachers offered calculator free play as an alternative to
silent reading at times when children had a free choice of activity. Many other teachers built an
extensive sharing time into their free exploration sessions. This frequently lead to new activities
for other children to discuss or try, as well as opportunities for class discussion about what was
done with the calculator.

The calculator was also being used as an object of discovery in its own right. Children at all
levels were keen to discover the functions of the various keys and to establish for themselves
that the + key, for example, has the effect of determining "how many altogether". Individual

Figure 2
Figure 3

who discovered how to use certain functions, such as the memory, quickly passed the
information on to others who were interested - which was by no means everyone. Children were
fascinated to find out how to switch off their solar-powered calculators - many kindergarten
children tried to see what happened to the display when they put the calculator under their
sweaters. A grade 2 and 3 class accidentally discovered that the calculator switches itself off
when not in use. They turned this into a maths/science experiment to find out how long this
takes. Children devised methods for accurate timing, discussed how many trials would be
needed for a sufficient degree of accuracy, and found ways to calculate a rough average of the
different trials.

The effect of calculators on children's learning of number concepts

The purpose of introducing calculators was not to make children dependent on calculators, but
rather to enhance that elusive quality "number sense", by providing children with a rich
mathematical environment to explore. Calculators were used alongside concrete materials and
other computational tools, with children often needing to choose the most appropriate tool for
the task at hand.

Classroom observations, of the type described above, revealed that many young children were
dealing with much larger numbers than would normally be expected, as well as, in many cases,
negative numbers and, to a lesser extent, decimals.

In order to investigate the long-term effect of calculator use on children's learning of number, an
extensive programme of testing and interviews was conducted at the grade 3 and 4 levels,
using the last cohort of children at each year level who had not taken part in the project as the
control group.

Despite fears expressed by some parents, there was no evidence that children became reliant
on calculators at the expense of their ability to use other forms of computation. The interviews
showed that children with long-term experience of calculators performed better overall on a both
sets of computation items than children without such experience - in one set they could use any
tool of their choice, while the other required mental computation only. These children also
performed better on a wide range of items involving place value for large numbers, negative
numbers and, more particularly, decimals. They also made more appropriate choices of
calculating device and were better able to interpret their answers when using a calculator,
particularly where decimal answers were involved. No detrimental effects were observed in
either the interviews or the written tests.
Changing expectations and curriculum issues
The presence of calculators and an awareness of the ways in which children use them in their
classrooms have stimulated teachers to re-assess their expectations of children.

Interviews and an extensive written questionnaire were used to collect data on teachers'
expectations. Preliminary analysis of the questionnaire data confirms that children have, in
general, performed beyond their teachers' previous expectations on tasks related to large
numbers, negative numbers and decimals .

For many teachers one of the frightening aspects of calculator use is the possibility that children
may encounter very large numbers, negative numbers and decimals "before they are ready".
Project teachers who had become comfortable with calculators in their classroom took the
opposite view. They saw their previous curriculum constraints as imposing artificial boundaries
on the children. One teacher commented:
My expectations have changed enormously. It has changed and
challenged both the children and myself. There now seems to be no
limits to what we can do in our theme work. I am surprised by the
children's understanding of concepts - particularly place value,
numbers and decimals (including money).

These changing expectations must, in the long-term, be reflected in changes in the mathematics
curriculum. Teachers are being lead by the children into exploring content beyond their previous
expectations. The changes which are occurring are gradual and will take some time before they
are formally incorporated into school curriculum statements.

The effect calculators have on classroom practice

It was a major expectation of the project that the introduction of calculators would result in
changes in teachers' beliefs and practice.

In the UK, the Calculator-Aware Number project (CAN), which began in 1986 under the direction
of the late Hilary Shuard, was entered into as a curriculum development project. The CAN
project, however, found that the calculator's full potential could not be realised without a change
in teaching style.

By the end of their third year of involvement in the Calculators in Primary Mathematics project
most of the seven teachers involved in this aspect of the project claimed to have made
substantial changes to their teaching of mathematics.

For example, the teacher who devised the number line-up activity reported that she used it, and
other similar activities, over and over again. She commented that the activities she now tries to
use are ones where the children can "take themselves where they want to go" and that she is
never sure what is going to happen. She identified this as a major change in her own teaching
of mathematics and believes that she uses many more open-ended activities than in the past.


Other teachers found similar changes in their way of approaching mathematics in their
classroom. Moreover, they too found that such re-useable "shells" of activities work better (and
with less effort on their part) than the "throw away" ten minute activities often found in
commercial publications. These re-useable activities can develop in complexity over time and
often lead to surprising results from children.

One of the original hypotheses of the project was that teachers would adopt a more open-ended
teaching style as a result of the increased opportunities for exploration of number presented by
the calculator. It was also hypothesised that the presence of the calculator would extend the
range of problem solving activities in the classroom.

All 7 teachers, at some stage of their involvement in the project, claimed to have become more
open-ended in their teaching. However, 2 teachers reported a less open-ended approach in
their second year of involvement compared with their first year - mainly due to a perceived need
to instruct children on calculator use.

Four teachers spontaneously described their mathematics teaching as having become more like
their language teaching - for example, one teacher stated:
It's becoming a bit more like language where you let children explore
their own limits and everything is acceptable. All the approximations
and the answers don't have to be correct, as long as the procedure is
getting there, and I think it's making the way I look at it a lot more
flexible and open-ended.

A majority of teachers also claimed there was more sharing and discussion in their classrooms,
which some identified as providing opportunities for observations of children, which in turn lead
to teachers catering better for the full ability range. An increase in problem solving activity, often
related to the real world, was also identified as a change by 4 teachers.

These changes support the underlying hypotheses of the project and were in line with .trends
obtained from an initial analysis of the classroom observation data.

Dr Susie Groves is Associate Professor in the School of Mathematics, Science and Environmental Education at
Deakin University, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, 3125, Australia.

Jill Cheeseman was a member of the Calculators in Primary Mathematics project team and is currently completing
her Master of Education thesis at Deakin University on the effect of calculator use on young children's acquisition of
number concepts.

The Calculators in Primary Mathematics project was funded by the Australian Research Council, Deakin University
and the University of Melbourne. The project team consisted of Susie Groves, Jill Cheeseman, Terry Beeby, Graham
Ferres (Deakin University); Ron Welsh, Kaye Stacey, David Rasmussen (Melbourne University); and Paul Carlin
(Catholic Education Office).

For almost two decades mathematics educators in the UK, USA and Australia have recommended that calculators be
integrated into the core mathematics curriculum. Current recommendations on calculator use in Australia can be
found in

Australian Education Council. (1990). A National Statement on Mathematics for Australian Schools.
Melbourne: Curriculum Corporation (Australia).

Results from a survey of 700 teachers carried out by the Calculators in Primary Mathematics project indicate a
remarkable shift in favour of the early introduction of calculators since a similar survey was carried out ten years
earlier. In the 1990 survey, 75 percent of teachers supported calculator use in kindergarten to grade 3, compared to a
mere 7 percent in 1980. However, 58 percent of teachers at these grade levels admitted to rarely or never using
calculators in their classrooms. Furthermore, while over 80 percent of teachers at all year levels supported the use of
calculators to allow for more challenging problems solving situations and also to develop new concepts and skills, 60
percent of kindergarten to grade 3 teachers admitted to rarely or never using calculators for these purposes.

The fifteen Calculators in Primary Mathematics project newsletters have been published as

Groves, S. (Ed.). (1994). Calculators in Primary Mathematics: The Newsletters. Geelong: Centre for Studies
in Mathematics, Science and Environmental Education, Deakin University.

Further details of classroom activities can be found in the video and papers below

Groves, S. & Cheeseman, J. (1993). Young Children Using Calculators. [Videotape]. Burwood: Video
Production Unit, Deakin University.

Groves, S., Ferres, G., Bergfeld, S. & Salter, S. (1990). Calculators in the infant school: The Victoria College
Calculator Project. In M.A. (Ken) Clements (Ed.) Whither Mathematics? Proceedings of the 27th Annual
Conference of the Mathematical Association of Victoria, pp. 244-250. Melbourne: Mathematical Association
of Victoria.

Groves, S., Cheeseman, J., Clarke, C. & Hawkes, J. (1991). Using calculators with young children. In J.
O'Reilly and S. Wettenhall (Eds.), Mathematics: IDEAS. Proceedings of the 28th Annual Conference of the
Mathematical Association of Victoria, pp. 325-333. Melbourne: Mathematical Association of Victoria.

Four different tools - a written test, a test of calculator use and two different interviews - were used over the three
year period 1991 to 1993 at grade 3 and 4 levels to determine the long-term effect of calculator use on children's
learning of number. In each year, approximately 500 children completed the written test and the test of calculator use,
with over 10 percent of these children also taking part in one of the two interviews. Results published to date can be
found in

Groves, S. (1993). The effect of calculator use on third graders' solutions of real world division and
multiplication problems. In I. Hirabayashi, N. Nohda, K. Shigematsu and Fou-Lai Lin (Eds.), Proceedings of
the Seventeenth International Conference for the Psychology of Mathematics. (Vol. II, pp. 9-16). Tsukuba,
Ibaraki, Japan: University of Tsukuba.

Stacey, K. (1994). Arithmetic with a calculator: What do children need to learn? In G. Bell, B. Wright, N.
Leeson & J. Geake (Eds.), Challenges in Mathematics Education: Constraints on Construction. Proceedings
of the Seventeenth Annual Conference of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia (pp.
563-570). Lismore: Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia.

Groves, S. (1994). The effect of calculator use on third and fourth graders' computation and choice of
calculating device. In J.P. da Ponte & J.F. Matos (Eds.), Proceedings of the Eighteenth International
Conference for the Psychology of Mathematics Education. (Vol. Ill, pp. 33-40). Lisbon, Portugal: University
of Lisbon.

For further details of changing expectations and curriculum issues see

Groves, S. & Cheeseman, J. (1992). Calculators in Primary Mathematics: Changing expectations and
curriculum issues. Paper presented at the Joint Annual Conference of the Australian Association for
Research in Education and the New Zealand Association for Research in Education, Geelong.

The Calculator-Aware Number project (CAN) was a large scale, long term curriculum development project. For
descriptions of the project see

Duffin, J. (1989). Annual report of evaluation of CAN component of Prime project. National Curriculum
Council Primary Initiatives in Mathematics Education Project.

Shuard, H., Walsh, A., Goodwin, J. & Worcester, V. (1991). Calculators, children and mathematics. London:
Simon and Schuster.

For further details of changes in classroom practice see

Groves, S. (1993). Calculators as an Agent for Change: Teachers' Perceptions and Practice. Paper
presented at the Annual Conference of the Australian Association for Research in Education, Fremantle.
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