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Truth and Clarity in Arithmetic

The computing profession-indeed the engineering profession in general-has a particular responsibility to promote numeracy, both within the profession and within the community at large. The commodity calculator is an insult to that responsibility. The IEEE should establish and promote a rigorous and detailed standard for a universal basic calculator. Professional engineers everywhere should press to have that calculator manufactured and adopted as widely as possible. Computing professionals should work with the teaching profession to have the arithmetic of the universal basic calculator taught throughout elementary schooling, perhaps using calculators with drill and practice built in.

A discussion of the historical conventions of numeric notation (place value notation) and how they have come to influence everyday digital tools such as ATMs and calculators. The author then claims that improvements to calculator design would help in improving general numeracy, especially for young kids. He then suggests a calculator redesign and offers a list of features the new calculator should exhibit. Core feataures would be: clarity (operations should be seen when carried out), simplicity (consistent and uniform with clear and mathematically concise operator keys), affordance for non-decimal fractional numbers, amongst others. The author believes that such a calculator would help to improve numeracy and that the engineering community ultimately carries the responsibility for this task.

N. Holmes, “Truth and Clarity in Arithmetic,” Computer, Vol. 36, Iss. 2, Feb. 2003, p. 106-108

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