War on Calculators
10-06-2015, 10:09 PM
Post: #1
 Howard Owen Member Posts: 69 Joined: Dec 2013
War on Calculators
This article bashes TI, but it's really about relegating handheld graphing calculators to the scrap heap of history. The author asks why expensive calculators are the standard in schools when there are free or nearly free alternatives. One company providing educationally focussed apps is highlighted, indeed promoted, Desmos. This company has apparently been making some headway getting their app accepted on a trial basis for a Texas standardized test. The app is available for free on Android and iOS and looks to be a capable grapher.

I know the discussion of mobile apps vs real calculators has been a perennial here. What do you think about the article and app?

Regards,
Howard
10-07-2015, 12:41 AM
Post: #2
 striegel Member Posts: 135 Joined: May 2015
10-07-2015, 02:35 AM
Post: #3
 Dwight Sturrock Member Posts: 115 Joined: Dec 2013
RE: War on Calculators
Excellent article. I'm in favor of the $20 scientific calculator in the hands of students. I wonder about smartphone apps, iPads, etc in the classroom since this could make cheating so much easier. 10-07-2015, 02:37 AM Post: #4  DMaier Junior Member Posts: 34 Joined: Jan 2014 RE: War on Calculators (10-06-2015 10:09 PM)Howard Owen Wrote: This article bashes TI, but it's really about relegating handheld graphing calculators to the scrap heap of history. The author asks why expensive calculators are the standard in schools when there are free or nearly free alternatives. Think your high school age kid is learning math? Ha! They're really learning operation of a TI-83/84 calculator from a TI-84 calculator instructor, who conveniently has all the necessary TI-84-based teaching materials to hand. This is all good, because your child will need to be well-prepared with TI-84 skills when exam time comes. What if you aren't thrilled with the 84? Well, when you think about it, a parent giving a child an NSpire in this situation is making poor choices (tried that). (A Prime, of course, would mean that it is time to call Social Services.) On the other hand, would you prefer that your child be taught math, in a calculator-agnostic way? Well, someone in the education business is going to need new qualifications. And, frankly, nobody wants that. Unless, of course, parents start looking at the logic of a free app vs. a$100+ calculator.
10-07-2015, 06:49 AM
Post: #5
 Gerald H Senior Member Posts: 1,201 Joined: May 2014
RE: War on Calculators
I have seen the future & its name is Desmos (or something similar).
10-07-2015, 03:32 PM (This post was last modified: 10-07-2015 03:33 PM by CR Haeger.)
Post: #6
 CR Haeger Member Posts: 275 Joined: Dec 2013
RE: War on Calculators
(10-07-2015 02:37 AM)DMaier Wrote:
(10-06-2015 10:09 PM)Howard Owen Wrote:  This article bashes TI, but it's really about relegating handheld graphing calculators to the scrap heap of history. The author asks why expensive calculators are the standard in schools when there are free or nearly free alternatives.

Think your high school age kid is learning math? Ha! They're really learning operation of a TI-83/84 calculator from a TI-84 calculator instructor, who conveniently has all the necessary TI-84-based teaching materials to hand. This is all good, because your child will need to be well-prepared with TI-84 skills when exam time comes.

What if you aren't thrilled with the 84? Well, when you think about it, a parent giving a child an NSpire in this situation is making poor choices (tried that). (A Prime, of course, would mean that it is time to call Social Services.) On the other hand, would you prefer that your child be taught math, in a calculator-agnostic way? Well, someone in the education business is going to need new qualifications. And, frankly, nobody wants that. Unless, of course, parents start looking at the logic of a free app vs. a $100+ calculator. Im not thrilled with the TI84 either. I bought my HS child a one used and later an$18 TI36X. She uses the TI36X almost exclusively as she feels its easier to navigate than the 84. She uses Desmos sometimes. IMO the TI36X is a really good non graphing choice for HS through college.
10-07-2015, 11:08 PM
Post: #7
 JimP Member Posts: 56 Joined: Apr 2014
RE: War on Calculators
(10-06-2015 10:09 PM)Howard Owen Wrote:  This article bashes TI, but it's really about relegating handheld graphing calculators to the scrap heap of history. The author asks why expensive calculators are the standard in schools when there are free or nearly free alternatives. One company providing educationally focussed apps is highlighted, indeed promoted, Desmos. This company has apparently been making some headway getting their app accepted on a trial basis for a Texas standardized test. The app is available for free on Android and iOS and looks to be a capable grapher.

I know the discussion of mobile apps vs real calculators has been a perennial here. What do you think about the article and app?

I would prefer to see kids using calculators in class than using mobile phone applications (kicking and screaming, futilely, against that abbreviation "app" !!!) because of the potential distractions of the phone. Plus, there is something satisfying about a key click! But calculators are for people who understand how to do math already. Just like spelling checkers are for people who CAN spell, not for those who cannot -- relying on technology rather than one's brain is a bit of a cop-out. As far as when to introduce them -- four-bangers only until the principles of +-*/ have been mastered. Scientific -- when understanding of trig etc. is solid. Now -- if any of these TI machines, or bless their hearts, Casio, Sharp, dare we hope, HP, can be set so that only specific functions can be used until the student has "passed" a standard, that would be one way of introducing the technology at an appropriate time. Let's face it, one would not be allowed to use more advanced apparatus in a laboratory, say, for instance, a nuclear magnetic resonance spectrophotometer, without knowing how to prepare a sample, what the scan would deliver, and how to interpret a spectrum. So -- do the same for calculators!
10-08-2015, 02:54 PM
Post: #8
 David Hayden Member Posts: 161 Joined: Dec 2013
RE: War on Calculators
There are some serious practical concerns. First, remember that that "free" app requires a cell phone that costs $50/month. What if some kids can't afford it? Now I realize that nearly everyone older than 11 has a smartphone today, but still. Second, most schools forbid the use of cell phones by students. They are simply too distracting. So the alternative is what? Tablets in the classroom? Now the "free" app requires the district to buy a tablet. And a charging station. And train the tech people to support them. Third, in a classroom environment, it's absolutely 100% essential that the tools work every time for every student. In a 40 or 50 minute class, the teacher can't afford to spend even 5 minutes with the kid whose app took a crap, or whose tablet ran out of power, or has a cracked screen because the last kid sat on it. So it's true that an app is a whole lot better than a calculator but the infratructure needed for it not trivial. We will definitely get there soon though. To me, the article looked like an ad for Desmos. Maybe the "special advertisement" disclaimer got truncated from the online version 10-08-2015, 04:04 PM Post: #9  Eric Rechlin Member Posts: 98 Joined: Dec 2013 RE: War on Calculators A cell phone does not cost$50 a month. You can buy a low-end phone (or a used flagship from a few years ago) for well under $100 and then never activate it with cellular service. There's no monthly fee if you just want to use it on wifi. You can even make calls with services like Google Hangouts. For example, I do this with my Galaxy S2. It works great as a web camera, and simpler apps run just fine on it, despite it being over 4 years old. 10-08-2015, 04:53 PM Post: #10  Katie Wasserman Super Moderator Posts: 625 Joined: Dec 2013 RE: War on Calculators (10-08-2015 04:04 PM)Eric Rechlin Wrote: A cell phone does not cost$50 a month. .......
For example, I do this with my Galaxy S2. It works great as a web camera, and simpler apps run just fine on it, despite it being over 4 years old.

I keep a no-contract, never registered AT&T Go Phone in my car as a backup. The Alcatel One. It was only $20 (on sale), runs Android has standalone GPS, even an FM radio! I can use it immediately for 911 calls and can register it by calling 611 with a credit card. Running Free42 on it makes it into an awesome calculator for the price. Downloading maps in advanced gives me a full function mapping GPS with no need for any connectivity. Before I came across the Alcatel I had another$20 (on sale) Windows Lumia 520 phone that did all the above too, but the calculator emulation choices were slim as were all the other apps.

It's totally amazing what $20 can buy. -katie 10-08-2015, 05:27 PM Post: #11  Han Senior Member Posts: 1,717 Joined: Dec 2013 RE: War on Calculators The TI-84 line has essentially remained stagnant at the technological level for about 3 decades and has still not come down in price. If graphing calculators today were to cost$30 dollars, I don't think anyone would care if they were being used in the classroom as that is relatively cheap.

Graph 3D | QPI | SolveSys
07-25-2016, 10:25 PM
Post: #12
 erniebro Junior Member Posts: 1 Joined: May 2014
RE: War on Calculators
GraphNCalc83 for the iPhone and iPad is a great alternative to the TI graphing calculators. It is a reimagining of the TI style calculator with a touch interface. Pinch to zoom, swipe to scroll and tap to trace. All with a fluid real time display- it fully leverages the 64 bit maths, large memory and speedy Arm processors in the iDevices. Don't want to pay for a phone? It runs on iPod Touch and iPad too.
07-26-2016, 01:04 AM (This post was last modified: 07-26-2016 01:06 AM by James P.G. Sterbenz.)
Post: #13
 James P.G. Sterbenz Junior Member Posts: 7 Joined: Oct 2014
RE: War on Calculators
I walked through the back-to-school isle at my local Target last weekend, and there was a wall of TI calculators. I even bought an 84+CE to play with because it was 30% (or so) off.

But it's pretty disgusting that there wasn't a single HP calculator there. There were a few Casios. HP seems to have done spectacularly well at losing in the market to competitors, on many fronts.

---James, who still uses his HP-55 and -16C regularly
07-26-2016, 07:53 AM
Post: #14
 JimP Member Posts: 56 Joined: Apr 2014
RE: War on Calculators
At least a separate graphing calculator can't be used to text or otherwise communicate in an irrelevant manner like a smartphone can (can it?)

But as for TI -- I acquired a TI-89 Titanium model just to play with it and found it a real struggle. Having grown up learning that to calculate the sin of 29 degrees one could press the number 29 and then hit the sin key, and get an answer immediately, the TI system was dreadful. One has to spell it out as Sin(29) and then hit Enter. Not Efficient. Long live HP!
07-26-2016, 12:37 PM
Post: #15
 Ron Ross Junior Member Posts: 47 Joined: Mar 2014
RE: War on Calculators
The Ti-89 certainly can seem awkward (because it is), but the trig functions are a second shift function (still not the most efficient either) and you do not have to spell our SIN unless you really want to do things the hardest way.
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I used to be down on the Ti-89, but I have seen an expert 89 user show me how efficient he was with his 89. So despite Mike Morrow's comments and others here, I was forced to acknowledge it was a decent calculator. No, it is not superior nor even equal to an Hp 50G, but most people do not really use their high end calculators for high end calculating.
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In addition, if you do not learn RPN, the Hp 50G's algebraic mode isn't any better than using a Ti-89 aside from the trig functions are not second functions buried under a menu, and a more readable screen.
07-26-2016, 04:07 PM (This post was last modified: 07-26-2016 04:39 PM by Toby.)
Post: #16
 Toby Junior Member Posts: 1 Joined: Jun 2016
RE: War on Calculators
Having recently emerged from the secondary education system in the UK, I thought I might give a perspective on the use of calculators in classrooms as I have experienced them.

In the UK (apart from Scotland, which I think has broadly similar qualifications of different names), all people take qualifications called GCSEs when they are 16, after which most people go on to study A-Levels, which they take exams for at age 18 (until last year and still in some subjects until the specifications change, the exams are split such that some are taken at age 17 as well).

All of these exams are conducted under the same rules set by JCQ (the Joint Council for Qualifications)(See here for the full document), which importantly forbid calculators that are designed or adapted to offer symbolic algebra manipulation, symbolic differentiation or integration, or communication with other machines or the internet, or from having retrievable information stored in them.

In my experience, most people use the Casio fx-83GT PLUS (£5) or fx-85GT PLUS (£6) and variations thereof or (especially once they are doing A-Level Further Maths) Casio fx-991ES PLUS (£15.90). These are all non-graphing scientific models with fairly unpleasant mushy keyboards, and especially in the case of the fx-991ES PLUS, quite a few features, almost all of which are separated into separate modes, which can tend to make them a pain to use. (As if algebraic entry wasn't time consuming enough!) Luckily, only the basic scientific functions (trig., exp., etc.) are ever really required. A very few people get graphing calculators such as the TI-84, but these are the exception, and the students tend to have come from education systems in other countries. (I once knew someone from Germany that had a monster of a TI Voyage 200, only to be told it wasn't allowed because of its CAS) Thanks to me, there were a few people walking around with the WP-34s, but the potential for serial communication (which would require someone to go into the exam room with a load of wires and computer etc, while being supervised) and maybe the fact that it was a modified calculator seemed to spook the relevant people, so we were advised against using them for exams.

In my experience of the pure modules of the Further Mathematics and Mathematics courses, curve sketching is generally done by hand, as are computations using matrices, vectors, complex numbers and integration (even definite integration, as they want exact answers). Most of the emphasis is proving things to be true, manually finding series expansions, and giving exact answers, so calculators are rarely required.

We did occasionally use tools such as Desmos, Geogebra and Autograph for demonstrations, and are sometimes advised to use Desmos in particular if we are really stuck. All students in my classes had smartphones. My school also used to have a site licence for Mathematica, but stopped paying because it was deemed too expensive given that only a handful of students used it.

In the statistics and mechanics modules of the Maths and Further Maths Courses, there is more emphasis (at least in my experience) on calculating things and giving inexact answers, however for mechanics problems, we are advised to only use the calculator to give final answers, working symbolically until that point. In statistics modules we are expected to use mathematical tables. This is possibly partly because the calculators we are expected to use do not feature much in the way of statistical distributions, and also because in the exams, use of the provided tables is likely expected.

In general, where more advanced calculator features allow a quick way to get an answer, workings out are awarded marks in the exams, so any such features are relegated to merely being a quick way to check the answers given.

I'm not sure how this compares to other education systems, but I would certainly say that we are taught Mathematics really quite well. For those interested, specifications for the Maths and Further Maths courses from two of the main exam boards can be found at the links below. (The boards award the same level qualification, and I think the Mathematics courses have to meet certain government standards with regards to content, whereas the content of Further Mathematics courses are (from what I have heard) less prescriptively regulated.)
OCR Exam Board Specification
Edexcel Exam Board Specification
Note that these specifications will soon be out of date, as AS exams (taken as part of an A-Level at at age 17) are being phased out, as are (apparently) modular courses, yet I imagine that the content and teaching methods will be similar.
07-27-2016, 05:59 AM
Post: #17
 EdS2 Member Posts: 56 Joined: Apr 2014
RE: War on Calculators
Thanks for the full story!
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