Should I Bother With Non-Calculator Maths

I met my new Year 9 Maths student today. I was really shocked when I soon found that he:

  • Cannot multiple double digit numbers together – for example, 24 x 15.
  • Did not know what the order of operations was.
  • Cannot work with negative numbers.
  • Is slow at adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing basic numbers.

So essentially he was missing much of the basic foundations of maths! The question is: how do I tackle helping him?

Should I work through all the basic non-calculator arithmetic?

Being able to do non-calculator maths is essential. It makes you that much faster at calculations and it is also part of the Year 10 School Certificate exam. But at the same time I’m thinking that learning all that will take forever and he is already really far behind in class.

Or should I skip straight to teaching maths using calculators, since he is behind in that too?

Having a look at his Maths exam, there were things like Pythagoras Theorem and the area/circumference of a circle, where you are allowed to use a calculator. If I just start tutoring him in these areas with a calculator, he will be closer to catching up with the rest of his class. But at the same time, he’ll still be unable to do the basic non-calculator maths work!

I guess the real difficulty is that his level of maths is probably Year 6 or 7, and I’m wondering whether I should tutor him at the Year 6 or 7 level, or just try to tutor him at the Year 9 level that he should be in.

How useful do you think non-calculator maths is?

6 comments for “Should I Bother With Non-Calculator Maths

  1. Blehs
    January 30, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    If your talking about year 12 maths 3-unit and above, im not sure how much non-calculator math comes into play. Sure a handy skill that improves speed but all our math nowadays is done using calculators.

    • tutortales
      January 30, 2010 at 11:00 pm

      Nah, I’m talking about Year 9 maths, because Year 10 School Certificate still has the non-calculator section.


  2. nexus
    February 16, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    in response to blehs, for 3u, and 4u maths yr 11 or yr 12, non calculator skills are not essential , but are useful, as they are sometimes quicker for some topics. but for calculus, non calculator methods are strongly recommended learning.

  3. June 2, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    I just finished Year 9 and non-cal skills ARE essental for the tests. Most the questions in the non-cal section cannot be done if you dont know all the basic methods above. i think you shoud split your lesson, cal and noncal. It would be best for the guy being taught. I would look up some non-cal tests so you know what he will need to know.

    just what i would do

  4. Oliver
    October 14, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    Being able to do maths without a calculator is absolutely essential. Especially as you come into senior high school years. Even in 3u/4u you need to be able to quickly add, subtract, divide or multiply almost instantaneously without a calculator to avoid wasting time. If you cannot work most things out without a calculator you should not be doing even advanced maths much less 3 or 4 unit. For example even with simple linear equations like 5x + 2 = 12 you must first minus the 2 then divide by 5 to get x = 2. That is using non-calc maths, even when you don’t realise. Therefore i think you should first work on non-calc to get that up to speed before “cheating” with a calculator, since he (or future students) will never grasp the basics if they just grab a calculator to do all the thinking for them. There’s my two cents.

  5. Fiona
    November 30, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    ummmmmm, we’re talking about this guy doing 3unit/4unit?

    puhlease! i think this guy is dropping maths altogether in year 11

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