The Algebraic Calculator and Mathematics Education

Barry Kissane
The Australian Institute of Education
Murdoch University
Murdoch WA


This paper describes the recent development of hand-held algebraic calculators and evaluates their significance for secondary education. Sophisticated computer algebra systems (CAS) have been available to mathematicians for some years now but have been too powerful, too sophisticated and too expensive and have required too much access to powerful computers to have had much impact on teaching and learning elementary algebra and calculus. Unlike CAS, algebraic calculators have been developed to meet the needs of mathematics students rather than those of mathematicians, scientists and engineers. Access to an algebraic calculator will allow students to deal with all of the symbolic manipulation demands of the conventional secondary school algebra and calculus curriculum. The implications of such access for the mathematics curriculum, teaching methods, assessment and the professional development of teachers are discussed in the paper. Alternative ways of regulating access to and controlling the use of algebraic calculators are discussed, together with the desirability of doing so. Parallels are drawn between the significance of the algebraic calculator for the secondary school and of the arithmetic calculator for the elementary school.

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