Editor’s Note: The post originally appeared on ZDNet Education. Click here to read the entire post.
Calculators are designed to eliminate the need for repetitive, tedious arithmetic, leaving time to actually think about the math. When used correctly in the classroom, modern graphing calculators can do wonders for visualization, simulation, and encouraging that critical thought that we’re all after.
They were supposed to eliminate the tedium and simple mistakes that plague many calculations but instead have become the go-to device for any math problem. Worse, students frequently lack the mathematical savvy to know when the answer output by the calculator doesn’t make sense. Estimation, it would seem, is a lost art.
Enter QAMA, truly one of the coolest, most thoughtful, welcome bits of ed tech to hit math classrooms in a very long time. Created by Ilan Samson, a retired physicist and serial inventor, to address exactly the problems I described above, the QAMA calculator forces students to provide a reasonable estimate for their answer before it will output the exact answer.
Ilan covered much more complex functionality later in our interview (I’m afraid that when you stick a couple of math geeks together, we can get a bit long-winded, so I didn’t include the entire interview here); however, the concept remains the same. Force students to demonstrate conceptual mastery and then give them the exact answer. The calculator is really quite amazing in its ability to determine appropriate degrees of allowable error and to prevent gaming of the system through any sort of trial and error. In fact, the logic built into the little machine would make one heck of a case study in a computer science class.
The calculator also allows for the estimating requirement to be turned off, but not with out a set of randomly flashing LEDs alerting instructors that students aren’t stepping through the full process in determining their answers. It isn’t often that a device will make me really say “Wow – this could be a game-changer.” The QAMA calculator, though, is precisely that. At around $20 a piece, these little devices are quite inexpensive and yet stand to change the way a couple generations of students have been using calculators. The ability to simply estimate is so critical in not just mathematics, but in all applications of math; the QAMA calculator is a no-brainer place to start in shifting the way our students learn math, logic, reasoning, and more.