Calculators and AI: Technology in Education

The New Frontier

ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence (AI) text generator, premiered in November 2022. Though AI has been around for many years in the form of, for example, autocorrect and predictive text, among other mundane uses, ChatGPT has advanced the technology considerably by providing an interface where an individual can scour the internet in mere seconds and put together information in new and inventive ways. While several sectors have embraced this technology, education has mostly recoiled in horror, decrying, “How can we stop cheating?! How can we protect knowledge?!” If there is one thing that exemplifies academia, it is gatekeeping. We, as academics, protect information to ensure it is used correctly, but what does that really mean? Who are we protecting information from? Who cannot use it?

Analyzing the Parallels: Exploring the Impact of Calculators and the Rise of AI on Problem Solving and Human Progress

Consider another incredible technological breakthrough decried in its early days- the calculator. The handheld calculator became more affordable in the 1970s, allowing mass access to the technology (Banks, 2011). Similar to the rise of AI, calculators were embraced and used in other sectors but not education. Access to calculators raised concerns amongst educators about a loss of basic computational skills and cheating (Banks, 2011); though there were also educators who considered the calculator a helpful tool for increasing student motivation through solving real-world problems (Pendelton, 1975). Proponents of calculator use argued that students must learn how to use them to ensure employability (Watters, 2015).

Nevertheless, concerns persisted through the 1980s, but kids used calculators at home whether teachers wanted them to or not (Banks, 2011; Watters, 2015). Evidently, the calculator was here to stay; therefore, educators had to adapt (Banks, 2011). Consequently, the focus shifted to ensuring students could understand the computations and be able to check the math (Shapiro, 1999; Willoughby, 1985).

Although calculators have revolutionized the way we perform mathematical calculations, AI possesses a far greater potential as it can solve complex mathematical problems and simulate human intelligence to a certain extent (Matthew et al., 2020). At its core, AI is the modern-day calculator. By automating lower-order thinking tasks (like basic recall, classifications, comparisons, and summaries), AI, just like the calculator, allows students to spend more time and effort focusing on complex, conceptual tasks and developing higher-order thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation (Sullivan et al., 2023).

AI has already made impressive strides in various fields, including healthcare, finance, transportation, and security. It can analyze massive amounts of data quickly, easily, and accurately, leading to more informed decisions, efficient workflows, and improved outcomes. With its incredible capacity to learn, advance, and adapt, AI is poised to take on an increasingly prominent role in our lives, reshaping society in ways we have yet to imagine.

Navigating the Technological Frontier: Shaping Education Strategies for the Integration of New Technologies

Calculators, cellphones, Google, all these technological leaps produced anxiety amongst educators as we felt a little bit out of our depth about how to adjust to them; nevertheless, they moved the needle on how, when, and what our students were learning [CG1] (Fernández-Batanero et al., 2021). AI is just the newest mover. Perhaps more importantly, there is one thing that new technologies have all had in common and will continue to have in common: They give students greater autonomy (Hester et al., 2009). Autonomy can be scary for educators. There will be others. The reality is that Pandora’s box is open again, and AI will shape the future of education. Perhaps, if embraced and understood, it is for the better. Finding strategies to incorporate this new technology can help reduce educators’ stress and uncertainty.


Banks, S. (2011). A historical analysis of attitudes toward the use of calculators in the junior high and high school math classrooms in the United Stars since 1975. [Master’s thesis, Cedarville University].

Fernández-Batanero, J. M., Román-Graván, P., Reyes-Rebollo, M. M., & Montenegro-Rueda, M. (2021). Impact of educational technology on teacher stress and anxiety: A literature review. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(2), 548.

Hester, T., Quinlan, M., Stone, P., & Sridharan, M. (2009). TT-UT Austin Villa 2009: Naos across Texas. Technical Report UT-AI-TR-09-08, The University of Texas at Austin, Department of Computer Science, AI Laboratory.

Matthew, N., O., Sadiku., Yogita, P., Akhare., Abayomi, Ajayi-Majebi., Sarhan, M., Musa. (2020). Humanized Artificial Intelligence. doi: 10.31695/IJASRE.2020.33937

Pendelton, D. (1975). Calculators in the classroom. Science News, 107, 175-181.

Shapiro, D.T. (1999, September 9). The calculator as crutch [Letter to the editor]. The New York Times, p.4.

Sullivan, M., Kelly, A., & McLaughlan, P. (2023). ChatGPT in higher education: Considerations for academic integrity and student learning. Journal of Applied Learning & Teaching, 6(1), 1-10.

Watters, A. (2015, March 12). A brief history of calculators in the classroom. Hack Education.

Willoughby, S. (1985). Curriculum trends: Mathematics: Will calculators rot our minds? Educational Leadership, 43, 90-91.