Math Homework, Notepad Calculators, Toolbelt Theory, and 1:1 Laptops

My go-to calculator is the notepad calculator, Soulver. I use it on all my devices. It’s handy for napkin math, bistro math, and dimensional analysis (factor-label method). Dimensional analysis is one of the most useful things I ever learned, and notepad calcs lend themselves to it better than most.

The other night, I tried to impart my love of notepad calculators and factor-label method to my nine-year-old while tackling a Math Stars worksheet. These worksheets are much about dimensional analysis, though it isn’t named as such. I introduced him to variables and probably went a bit over fourth-grade heads, but showing him my approach made for a fun expedition. Using a laptop to solve problems really piques his interest, keeping him in the learning moment. Laptops and discovering new tools and workflows rouse his intrinsic motivators.

Here’s a screenshot of Soulver in action. You can add headings and comments using a lightweight markup syntax. @ for headers. // for comments. With these, you can markup your calculations, turning them into documents.

Screenshot of Soulver showing some calculations.
Screenshot of Soulver showing some calculations.

Notepad calculators are my favorite tool for all sorts of calculations. As with my text editor, they provide a space for ideating, exploring, testing, and iterating. Notes are not just the result of the thinking process, they are the thinking process. And with tools like Soulver, you can export that thinking process to various formats. Here’s a PDF showing our Math Stars thinking session. Behold the embarrassing errors of my rusted mind. 😉

I want a schoolhouse with 1:1 laptops that encourages a culture of finding the tools that work for you, tools like notepad calculators. Albemarle County Schools with its Seven Pathways, tool belt theory, and open technology and Penn Manor with its open schoolhouse are great examples of how to create such a culture. Both have 1:1 laptop programs and allow students to pick their tools and control their devices.

Build a technology culture about collaboration, filling your tool belt, and finding your flow, not one about deficit model remediation. “Which side of the command line should our kids be on?”

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