Can my child use a calculator?

Using a calculator is a useful skill and a time saver, but it can also be overused and taken as a lazy alternative to thinking. The ACE methodology focuses on developing mathematical skills that are often neglected in schools. The assumption is, right up to secondary maths, that calculations are done by hand. This does not mean that calculators should not be allowed in some situations.

Here are some “rule-of-thumb” suggestions from a maths teacher:

1. If the PACE is clearly trying to teach a procedure, don’t use a calculator in the place of that procedure.

For example, if the PACE is teaching the long multiplication method of multiplying two numbers, do not allow the use of a calculator.


This is to teach a particular method. Nobody cares what the answer is, just whether the student can apply the technique to find the answer. You may allow the student to check their answer with a calculator, but all working should be shown.

Sometimes there might be pages full of exercises to perfect the method. Your child might say, “It’s taking too long – can I use a calculator for half of them?” There is no point. Better to cross out and leave half of them completely, because it will not be exercising what is being taught. If your child can prove that they can perform the procedure, then by all means select as many as are necessary.

Sometimes a procedure requires prerequisite maths knowledge, for example “times tables”.

Look at this example:


The procedure in long division requires a “guess” of how many times 235 goes into 876. When an estimate is made – say, 4 – then you need to multiply 235 by 4 and write it on the next line. A student who is still learning their tables might have trouble with this multiplication, so I would allow them to use a calculator for that multiplication. I would still want them to set out their working as normal, but here the calculator is just being used to overcome a weakness, not replace the skill.

2. If the PACE is clearly applying arithmetic to more complex problems, then allow them to use a calculator.

For example, if the question is to solve for x in the expression 27x = 346, then the student should show in their working that x = 346/27. The final answer can be obtained using long division or using a calculator – it really doesn’t matter as the PACE is not teaching long division here.

It is therefore the supervising parent’s responsibility to determine what the PACE is trying to achieve, and to make sure that the calculator is not being used to replace real learning.

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