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That's probably the **last thing** that every school kid in America needs. You make the mistake of thinking that something that you really like would be great for a whole different group of people. Most school kids haven't learned math yet. What they need--more than **any calculator**--are teachers who know how to effectively teach math, possibly assisted by devices that can actually help kids learn. The QAMA calculator, requiring a reasonable estimate for a problem before it gives the exact answer, might be such a device.

Experience has shown that use of regular calculators in the classroom actually prevents learning, it doesn't cause learning.

My hard-drinking father was too handsome and charming for his own good. He didn't finish high school and it seems that when he was channelling James Dean and making the moves on my mother when she was 16 he was, at 18, long out of school himself. He couldn't hold a job and when he died at the age of 35 from medical complications of drink he left my mother, sister, and I in big trouble financially.

But he was the one who taught me arithmetic, and since I was 8 when he died I must have been 6 or 7. This was beyond the Sesame Street counting to twenty and the like. No, it was dear old Dad, Canadian Club on his breath, scratchy chin close to me, who taught me how to do column sums and carries, three-digit multiplication, decimal numbers and how to keep track of the decimal point position when working with them, and long division. When I finally hit public school, the "drill and kill" repetitive approach to arithmetic wasn't the mindless rote learning that many teachers regard it today. It was an opportunity for refinement and mastery and a consolidation of numerical intuition. I learned to play my musical instruments by doing things over and over. And I learned my multiplication tables likewise. And, in time, I came to understand music and numbers more, not less.

My under-educated troubled father left a troubled legacy, but he gave me one gift that led to my life today--a love of number, which beget a love of learning in general, which beget a love of science, which beget a prestigious career that required a scientific grounding.

Nowadays, many a college-educated parent is baffled by his eight-year-old's math homework. Too many high-school students doom their future education and career choices by declaring that, because they want to be musicians or lawyers or actors or artists or dancers, they see no value to studying math after grade nine. And obnoxiously too many people actually boast about their innumeracy, sporting it as a badge of hipster honour. When I was in university this sort of cheek got my goat. As a science student, I studied English and music too, not only because I enjoyed it but because such breadth of study was required for a science degree. I don't denigrate humanities education per se--I studied outside of the hard sciences a lot myself--but there are many folks out there with a BA in History whose undergraduate exposure to science was some watered down survey course free of all that scary math. If I can write an English literature research paper to the same standard as an English major, it wouldn't hurt for an English major to take a calculus course that actually involves DOING some calculus!

I read somewhere recently of an undergraduate physics professor who started out a problem on the blackboard that began with a sum of single digit numbers, and nearly every kid in the room reached for a calculator to compute the sum. But I can still multiply three digit numbers in my head.

Thanks, Dad.

*Edited: 23 May 2012, 9:56 p.m. *