Algorithms, those pesky additions, long divisions and 3 digit x 3-digt multiplications we used to do over and over…

An algorithm is simply a standard series of steps to complete a repetitive task, which allows the task to be done quickly by just “plugging in” the numbers for each question.

Are they still relevant today? Well yes and no.

It is still important that students understand and are familiar with what is happening with numbers when we add, subtract, multiply or divide them. Calculators give students the idea that numbers are punched into a magic box and out comes an answer that is always right. They have no idea why or how it got there, or any idea of how it could be wrong. Essentially students expect calculators to do the thinking for them. This is a terrible mindset for students, never challenging or double checking that the calculator answer is right.

Students need to know what is happening to numbers and they need experience with efficient methods for working out a correct answer, but endless practice with pages of long calculations are no longer the goal in mathematics curricula. In the past this has been crucial in education as the only way to balance books and work out measurements etc was to be able to calculate accurately on paper. It was the only way to do it. Today this is no longer necessary and is where calculators and computers are a massive aid. But they are only an aid; the person entering the data has to know what they are doing and whether their answer makes sense. Trusting the calculator alone is a recipe for major errors.