Calculators: To Use or Not to Use? That is the question. The question that causes homeschooling parents and their teenage students grief. Probably way too much grief.

So let’s settle it: When we consider using calculators with Saxon, when’s the right time to introduce them? We’ll look at five things you’ll want to think about:

calculators with saxon

Calculators with Saxon Consideration 1: What Book Are You On?

Saxon recommends the use of a calculator at the start of the Algebra series. That would mean using calculators with Saxon would begin with Algebra ½ or Algebra 1, then of course with Algebra 2 and beyond. 

I’m completely on board with Saxon’s official guidance on this and recommend starting using calculators with Saxon in Algebra 1/2 and up. Once your student hits the Saxon Algebra series, we are assuming that they understand basic arithmetic. 

At that point, I really want them to spend their time on the algebra problem versus the basic computation. I always tell parents that you don’t need to worry… They still need to know what goes in the calculator! That’s the hard part and it should already be done as they laid the foundations in earlier math lessons.

Calculators with Saxon Consideration 2: Why Do We Use Calculators?

Once a student begins Saxon Algebra, the time it takes to do a lesson will increase. Because of that, I’d like to see them spend the majority of their time practicing their new algebra skills. That will decrease frustration and increase learning and confidence. 

By the time a student enters Algebra, they should have plenty of computational skills under their belt. Their math facts should be solidly ingrained in their head. (If they’re not, STOP and get them down cold. Use Drill Team or any other program that works for you. Trust me, you’ll save time and tears in the long run!)

Another thing to think about: students are allowed/expected to use calculators on the ACT/SAT. So if you plan on having your kids take these, they will need to use one to do well on these timed tests. Using the calculator is a different kind of skill and so learning how to do it is important in doing well on those tests.

I especially want them to be able to recognize when an answer they get doesn’t make sense. The SAT and ACT are stressful. It’s not the time to question your calculator! I want them to develop the skill of recognizing whether they have a correct calculator or may have mis-punched something on the machine BEFORE they are sitting in that room taking one of those tests. 

Calculators with Saxon Consideration 3: How Good is Your Student at Computation?

Let me say it again to be clear: Access to calculators with Saxon should only be granted once the student’s computational skills are firmly in place! But I would say the same thing about moving into the Algebra series, too. 

The use of calculators with Saxon is designed to free up their time to work on the more complex elements of Algebra that they are learning. If your student never got the hang of math facts and computation, you may be doing them a disservice by handing them a calculator. Think of it this way: they should understand why the calculator got a certain answer as though they had done the work themselves. 

So as you lead up to Algebra, make sure they have their math facts down well and can do simpler math computations. That will give them a solid start on their way to Algebra mastery.

calculators with saxon

Calculators with Saxon Consideration 4: Scientific vs Graphing Calculator? 

What’s the difference between a scientific and graphing calculator? 

  • A scientific calculator performs functions beyond addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. A scientific calculator usually has special buttons for things like exponents, pi and trigonometric functions.
  • A graphing calculator is a scientific calculator plus more.  It has a larger screen that allows you to type in a function, then see a graph of it. 

Scientific calculators are sufficient for SAT and ACT testing.  However, if your student plans to take Saxon Advanced Math or any AP testing, they will need a graphing calculator. 

Calculators with Saxon Consideration 5: Which One to Use?

There are a number of “right” answers to this. Yes, you could start off using one on your phone or computer. Of course, some kids may not do well with that because there are likely to be distractions that come along with using a device that does more than one thing. 

We should also revisit the fact that kids are allowed and even expected to use calculators on the ACT/SAT. We recommend using any of the calculators that are approved for the SAT and/or ACT so your student will be familiar and comfortable with their calculator before the exam. As such, it may be easiest and most cost-efficient just to start with one of those. 

There are a lot of calculators out there and it can be overwhelming to pick one.  Below you’ll find the ones I recommend. You will also find links to the complete lists of acceptable calculators for the SAT and the ACT.  (Disclosure:  Nicole the Math Lady, Inc. is a part of the Amazon Affiliate program.  By purchasing through these links, Nicole the Math Lady, Inc. may earn a small commission.)

Graphing Calculators

Best Scientific Calculators 

Complete List for SAT and ACT

And just so you know: Whenever the Saxon lesson requires them to specifically use a function in the calculator, I do walk through the steps that are listed in the textbook. However, since there are so many different calculators, I also recommend watching a YouTube tutorial on how to work your specific one. 

Do you have any advice for introducing calculators to students? Any successes you had or things you wish you’d done differently? I’d love to hear it in the comments!

Happy calculating and I’ll talk to you soon,

Nicole the Math Lady


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