When students are very young, the emphasis is on learning how to understand math. Once those concepts are understood, and the student is working in pre-algebra or algebra, calculator use is important.
If you are teaching your high school aged kids advanced math, sophisticated computation tools like graphing calculators make the concepts so much more real and understandable. And you can't compute values of transcendental functions by hand anyway, so when you get to the Algebra II and pre-calc levels, your students will need calculators.
I know the Texas Instruments graphing calculators are pretty pricey, so I linked to a list of free online graphers and scientific calculators. My husband and I (before I homeschooled) are engineers, so we also introduced our kids to the program Mathematica (also pricey, but there are discounts for educators)
My husband and I were just discussing this a few days ago. We decided to introduce it around 5th grade. Maybe we should consider it sooner. We will have to review our plans again.
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