The Handheld Calculator – what’s the point?

Lately in our school we have been working towards getting students more familiar and confident with their graphing calculators.  This effort has climaxed with the introduction of the TI-Nspire in grade 9 this year.

Fortunately the grade 9 teacher is very confident with the TI-Nspire, and passionate about its usefulness as an exploration tool, as well as a more powerful graphing and calculating tool.  He has done a great job integrating the TI-Nspire into daily classroom use.

I will inherit this teacher’s grade 9 students when they start grade 10 in August.  By that time, I will have to convince myself of the reason that these kids have a handheld calculator.

Our school is a 1-1 laptop school, so for explorations and modelling assignments, I tend to steer students towards Geogebra.  Using the sliders in Geogebra, together with the screen-casting capabilities of Jing, allows kids to make meaningful videos explaining the behavior of functions when parameters vary, or, under what circumstances the ambiguous case of triangles occur, etc.

Then when you consider that Geogebra and Jing are free, it is hard to see how TI-Nspire can add value.

What the handheld calculator does provide, is a graphing and calculating tool  where the capabilities are easily limited for tests and exams.  The TI-Nspire has done a fantastic job of this as it has a special “exam mode” where many of the features are disabled, and cannot be enabled until connected to a computer.  I can see that this is very useful.

What does concern me though, is that we are asking students to pay up to $150 so they have a machine that they can use in a test.  Other than in tests and exams, they could make do with a computer, i-pad or i-phone.

Graphing calculators must be reaching the end of their lifespan.  If exam use is their only function, they are not worth having.  It would be better to have exams where calculators were not used, or, a computer-based exam, which only opened up the necessary calculator or graphing software when necessary and permitted.  (Watch my next entry for ideas on the (very near) future of IB exams.)

In the meantime, I will better acquaint myself with the TI-Nspire.  Next year I will encourage students to use it for assignments, and leave Geogebra out in the cold, I suppose.

About eadurkin

Originally a HS Mathematics teacher from New Zealand, currently working as Associate Principal in the Secondary School at Canadian Academy, an international school in Kobe, Japan. Married with two children.
This entry was posted in IB MYP, Technology. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Handheld Calculator – what’s the point?

  1. Pingback: The IB DP Mathematics Exams of the (very near) Future | Liz Durkin's Blog

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