I'm Bon Crowder and the photos above are both of me - in 1989 and today. I'm a Generation X mom of Generation Z kids.

I began peer tutoring in high school in 1984. MathFour.com is the 2015 version of me helping peers be comfortable in math.

If you're a Gen-X parent, you're in the right place!

Tag Archives: calculator

Texas Instruments Little Professor

This morning I featured the Little Professor “electronic calculator” by Texas Instruments on episode 23 of #KnickKnackYack in the #MathShack.

It was so cool and so much fun, I wanted to share it here.

If you’re old enough, you might remember having one of these. Or coveting it because your friend had it.

And if you’re geeky enough, you might remember actually playing it.

You can find the vintage Little Professors here or buy a fancy new Solar Little Professor from TI here. And you can share this on Twitter, Facebook and even Pinterest!

I do #KnickKnackYack in the #MathShack live every weekday morning at 6am EST on Periscope. I share the random knickknacks accumulated through years of math blogging. Sometimes on a math object. Sometimes on something totally random. Always with wit, humor and a little math.

Follow @MathFour on Periscope or Twitter to get notifications of when it broadcasts.

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2 Responses to Number Rings – Review and Free Worksheet Download

    • Thanks, Cindy. I was surprised to see they had materials – it took me a while to get around to reviewing it. I was hoping for more – but that’s okay. You can’t be great at everything. They made a great app, I’ll just fill in some gaps. :)

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12 Responses to Happy Meal Coupon Reveals Lack of Thinking at McDonald's

  1. And the crowd goes wild!
    Yes, critical thinking is fantastic and is very much needed to be cognitively and mentally resilient.
    I can’t help but wonder if this is a bit of the system’s doing. To use some critical thinking of my own, perhaps McDs trained folks NOT to improvise, and to only use buttons for their specific intended purpose.
    Why? So they can track exactly what they sold, how many, and the coupons/discounts that were used/given.
    So, perhaps we should berate the idea of top/down control and mass production.
    I’m just saying… well, thinking.
    Thanks for post, B!

    • Then you would have to wonder if they have done a cost/benefit analysis of “button only” vs. “good customer service.”

      Sounds plausible. But unless McD’s is run by complete morons, I doubt it. (And a company that big can’t be run by COMPLETE morons.)

  2. Bon, you crack me up. I’m pleased to see that this McD’s (Maccas in Australian slang) didn’t get your trade. Really!

    This sort of story is so frustrating, because the solution is so simple. And you would think that a corporation like McD’s that prides itself on customer service can’t get this right.

    But you are right – the ability to think seems to have been somehow drummed out of the clerk AND the manager – now that’s scary. How does modern schooling and life not produce people better able to think? I guess they need better teachers – at school and at home.

    Keep posting!

    • Always glad to add some comic relief to the revolution, Peter!

      It IS scary – and one of the reasons I’m excited about the growth of homeschooling families. Perhaps the homeschoolers (even though they might not see it) will affect some change in the classroom schools.

      And those who afterschool are helping too!

  3. I thought my favorite “I don’t feel like thinking about it” phrase was “I have no idea”. But this “Sorry, we don’t have a button for it yet” beats it hands down!

    • That’s a great one – I never thought about it.

      Husband: “Are you washing clothes tonight because I’m out of socks?”

      Me: “I’m sorry. We don’t have a clean socks button yet.”


      Thanks for stopping by, Yelena!

  4. I am not surprised by your story. I had a similar experience at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Maybe a question should be added on job applications – Do you know how to think? Anyone who asks what the question means should be disqualified. My most surprising lack of thinking experience was when a waitress took us to a very wet table and started setting down the silverware wrapped in napkins. I asked if she had something to dry the table with and she replied, “No.” I unwrapped the silverware, dried the table with the napkin, and asked if I could have a new napkin. I left her a written tip suggesting that she learn to use her brain to solve problems not covered in her training.

    • I’m stunned and scared by the way the brains aren’t being developed (or used? trained? taught?) these days.

      And it’s not even a matter of them STOPPING to really think. It’s something that should be 2nd nature.

      They say computers will eventually be smart enough to outthink humans – and I’m starting to believe them. Not because computers are getting more powerful, but because we’re becoming idiot algorithm followers.

      Thanks for stopping by Sue!

  5. A guy went to a McD’s and ordered something totalling under $2. He attempted to pay for it with a $2 bill. The cashier had never seen one, or even heard of one and assumed it was bogus. The customer asked to see the manager. The manager thought it was bogus too.

    Now imagine you’re trying to buy a computer and want to know if they’ve got a better video card. Hint, more expensive doesn’t mean better.

    • Wow, Stephen! It never occurred to me that people wouldn’t have seen a $2 bill. Clearly some non-Americans might not, but you would assume that there was at least one American working at a McDonalds, right?

      Thanks for stopping by!

      (And did you get your video card?)

  6. Well, the desire to help children develop critical thinking skills is one of the primary reasons I became a teacher—so don’t count out the education system just yet. Believe me, I’m just as surprised by some of the lack of thinking as everyone else is. Many teachers are out there right now, trying to fix it. We don’t want our children growing up in a world of “buttons”, nor do we want to be 90 years old and in a nursing home, being cared for by “button pushers”!

    • Thank you, Mrs. T, for your comments, as well as your continued dedication to teaching our young people.

      I am much saddened by the requirements of teachers to conform to wishes and policies of administrators and congressmen. Most of the teachers I have met want to be in service of the students, and yet they are prohibited.

      Keep plugging at it, and I will keep cheering for you on my end!

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5 Responses to How Calculators Inhibit Learning the Distributive Property in Algebra

    • Playing is okay – provided he is really playing. The thing that our folks let us do (“check our work”) was the harmful thing. If he wants to fiddle around with it, that’s okay.

      In fact, I’m presenting a talk at this conference about teaching creativity with the calculator: http://www.teachhouston.uh.edu/t3/

      Thanks for the comment, Betsy!

    • Playing with a calculator is one thing. As long as it remains a source of play, kids can experiment and discover all sorts of neat things.

      But when they stop playing and start using it as a crutch, that’s when to be cautious.

      Thanks for popping in, Betsy. I miss you! #xoxo

  1. Hi — I thought you might like to know that you have a small typo above. 3 x 86 is 258 (not 268), which I arrived at by mentally starting with 3 x 90 (270) then subtracting 3 x 4 (12). Since I don’t “picture” the numbers in my mind very well I generally go for an approximate (270 in this case) then fine tune from there (for some reason only having to subtract 12 seemed easier to me, rather than adding 18 to 240). Thanks for all of the great information!

    • Thanks, Janet!

      I was talking to my friend about how different we all do arithmetic. Isn’t it fascinating how our great minds think differently!

      I appreciate your catch of the error. I’d like to say I did it intentionally, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t. 😀

      However, I’ll leave it in for the enjoyment of others.

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9 Responses to How to Use Flashcards when Teaching Math

  1. If a child WANTS to learn their math facts by heart, I certainly promote their doing so, and using whatever tools they like; what I disparage is educators *demanding* that they do so. If flashcards are offered as toys that a child can use *by themselves*, and without external pressure for mastery, then go for it. Creating the cards themselves would be even more valuable.

    • Thanks, Siggi, for the continuing conversation.

      Indeed, making the cards would be of great value. Listening to “Multiplication Rock” while doing so – even better.

      I think we continue to be on the same team with different uniforms. :)

  2. I’m puzzled by what you claim that Dan Meyer is “pushing.” Much of Dan’s work in regard to context is in direct response to the overuse of supposed contexts (i.e. “pseudocontext”) in mainstream math teaching.

    • Indeed, the pseudocontext found in textbooks is annoying. Note my response to Dan’s comment. I have erred in my placement of the link, as I don’t think he is pushing it directly. Merely his compelling manner might lead others to believe that it’s the best way, just as Sal Kahn’s movement has been interpreted as the clear winner in math teaching in many’s eyes.

      I meant only to link to his use of context (the real version) as opposed to math for math sake.

      And thanks for your comment!

    • Thanks for your comment, Dan!

      In re-reading what I have wrote, I have indeed implied that you suggest math must be learned in context. My link referring to you should have been placed elsewhere (which I have since adjusted).

      My point is that your “What can you do with this?” posts and style could be easily interpreted by others as the “right way” because it really looks awesome. And feels great. It appeals to curiosity, taps into science and gets kids (and grown ups) engaged. And you’re compelling, personally. So others might infer that math must be learned in context from your work.

      Indeed, the first time I watched a video of yours and then listened to your talk on it I felt like this was the best way to teach math.

      And then I thought about it. I don’t do word problems. I think they’re dumb and completely useless. But that’s probably because I enjoy math for math’s sake. And always have. Even as a kid.

      I think it is important to appeal to all sides (available) of a kid. Flashcards, calculators, videos (like yours or like Kahn’s), puzzles, toys, bugs, numbers, cookies, plastic eyeballs, and anything else you can get your hands on, should all be in every math coach’s tool box.

      • So I’m curious then who all these people are who keep pushing the idea that math must be learned in context. Maybe a link to their work would be more appropriate than to mine. Assuming they exist, of course.

        • Are you offended that I’ve linked to your blog? The post to which it is linked is indeed offering math in context.

          My sights are on the readers: homeschool teachers, classroom teachers and tutors of math. A link to show them how math is done in context is appropriate and valuable in this post.

          • I’m not offended. I’m just curious about this vast group of individuals who push the idea that math must be learned in context. Who are they? Where do they blog? Surely it wouldn’t be difficult to come up with a link or two.

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When to Give a Kid A Calculator

When we teach kids how to drive, we give them a few months in the classroom so they can learn the basics of driving and the rules of the road. Nobody in their right mind puts a teenager behind the wheel and says, while flying down the road, “Now, the brake pedal is the one… Continue Reading

6 Responses to When to Give a Kid A Calculator

  1. Great post, Bon. I have to say, though, that I’m not entirely sure that I agree with you!

    A) My Dad took me to a big, empty parking lot, and put me behind the wheel. Kinesthetic learning works very well for me, and being able to cue my muscle memory into my in-class driving instruction was a HUGE boon. No safety issues, either – worst case scenario I drove up on the grass a little!

    B) I’m not sure that there is no safety issue in the calculator debate; if a student doesn’t learn how to do basic mental math, they are likely to do things like overdraw their bank accounts, and get into other financial straits. This IS dangerous, if not in a crash-into-a-tree kind of way. 😉

    C) My two year old has his own calculator. I love that he is getting comfortable with numbers and operations, and can type in his own math sentences to see what he gets. My four year olds have their own ones, too. They like to check their answers to ‘easy’ questions, and see how close their estimates come for larger addition and subtraction problems. This ability to self-check is giving them greater freedom to be auto-didacts. They are also starting to play with multiplication on their calculators, and have a far better grasp of it than I would have guessed they would at this age. All of this is them *playing* with their calculators; I have nothing to do with it, excpet buying them for them when asked to do so.

    • Thanks for the comment, Siggi – and the contribution.

      A) I think muscle memory for brake pedals, etc, is different than button pushing. Button pushing is all the same. You can argue, though, that there is value in writing on different parts of paper, and on graph paper for helping the kinesthetic learners. Also, the act of scratching out or erasing helps with that.

      B) Indeed – you could perceive a safety issue. Especially if you owe someone money and calculate your interest wrong. And they are big. And mean. And…

      C) This brings up the difference between a calculator as a tool and a calculator as an educational toy. When taught as a tool, there is pressure and a requirement to learn to push the right buttons to get a specific result. When given as a toy, they are free to explore it. You can ask them what 2x2x3 is. And then 4×3, 2×6, 3×4, and so on… they will learn primes, prime factoring, commutativity, and all sorts of things. My beef is with people who try to teach graphing f(x)=x^2 + 1 on the box before (or even in lieu of ) teaching it via pencil and paper.

  2. This often gets brought up as a compromise between a no calculator and an all calculator approach, and it appeals to our novice teachers tremendously. And it is better than no calculators.

    But the things we’re comparing calculators to in these analogies are dangerous. Hammers, cars – our children will hurt themselves or others if they use them prematurely or inappropriately.

    Imagine students learning graph transformations. Should they learn them by hand first and then get to use a calculator to do them? Isn’t there a way to use the calculator to help them construct the understanding?

    Similarly, if a student is struggling with fraction computation. Should they not move forward or tackle any other math until mastered? Or can they use the calculator until they have mastered the content. With explicit feedback from the teacher about what their goals should be.

    To me this is teaching how to use the calculator as a tool. How can you use it for efficiency, to gather data to investigate, and for support when needed. Furthermore, that teaches a healthy approach to learning all new technology.

    One of the biggest things teachers can do is ask questions that students can answer but calculators can’t. How did you know that was right? Why did your method work? What other ways could you do this? Ask about the math, not the computation.

    For me it’s not so much earning a license to drive a car, it’s getting to dance without passing the dance lecture first.

    • I appreciate your argument, John. To continue the metaphor, though, it’s like always dancing at the barre, and never getting to the centre. If children could use the calculator like dancers use the barre, for warm-up and stabilization, before moving to the centre, that would be great. The problem is they want to take the barre with them.

      This is not speculation, this is experience. Personal experience. I was a calculator addict.

  3. when I taught my kids to drive a car, I taught on the stick first(fingers, paper and pen)then when you up to automatic(calculator)it is a joy and much more fun. You don’t look back(kids never do!)but you don’t have to…you’ve already got the basic stuff down.

    • I see the similarities in your analogy, MaryMoses, but I’m not sure they extend that far. While you may never actually have to drive a stick shift again in your life, you WILL have to do basic arithmetic. And a calculator may not always be handy.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and contributing!

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Calming generation X in math since 1985.

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