Sunday, July 27, 2014

What students lose when they stop graphing by hand

A few weeks after writing a post about the latest research on the downsides to abandoning penmanship, it occurs to me that there’s yet one more facet of penmanship that we’ve abandoned. Not only are schools (for the most part):

1. No longer teaching penmanship
2. No longer teaching cursive
3. Replacing handwriting with keyboarding

...they are also, increasingly, having kids graph functions via calculators rather than by hand, via pencil and graph paper. Instead of slowly plotting out the points of a particularly function, strategically choosing which numbers to plug in to most efficiently determine the general shape of a function, today's kids simply type in a function and see its graph immediately. It’s a much more passive learning process, which, I’m guessing, substantially reduces how deeply students conceptualize the geometry of functions.

A month ago, during my daughter’s last week of homeschool, I watched as she slowly plotted out the graphs of y=x, y=x+1, y=x+2, … y = x-1, y=x-2, … y=2x, y=3x, … y=-x, y=-2x, y=-3x, … y=1/2x, y=1/3x, … Every step of the way, numerous though those steps were, she was learning something—in the best sense of hands-on, child-centered, discovery learning! If she’d simply typed all these functions, one by one, into a graphing calculator, I’m not sure how much she’d still remember today.


John said...

I am wondering if it is even possible to find high school and college Calculus class that doesn't use the silly graphing calculator.

ChemProf said...

My college doesn't in calculus, but students are shocked when they find that out.

John said...

Which college would that be? Can you say?

ChemProf said...

I am at a tiny women's college in the Bay Area, but I'd rather not out myself any more than that!

Anonymous said...

I was let go from my adjunct position at a certain college when I refused to require students to use a graphing calculator. I also required them to graph by hand. The department chair said it was department policy to use graphing calculators and my refusal was tantamount to asking students to solve math problems without a pencil, and insubordination to boot.

ChemProf said...

That's sad. I find even using basic graphing calculators means that students have less of a grasp of order of operations, because they can just type in the whole thing and hit "execute," rather than executing each operation individually.