The Demise of Graphing Calculators?

Here’s an interesting question posed on a graphing calculator discussion group:

At Hypothetical High School, all students have laptop computers 24/7, and fast and open Internet access both at school and at home. Students will already have free access to Geogebra, Excel, Microsoft Maths, Wolfram Alpha, and heavens knows what else.  If more Maths power is needed, it can be bought relatively cheaply….

For such a school, is there any justification in asking parents to pay an extra AUS $190 for a graphics calculator?

Just so I don’t confuse anyone, remember that I am a firm believer in the power of technology for enhancing the relevance and power of mathematics teaching.  I have seen students explore and discover amazing mathematics because they had the instant feedback abilities of mathematics software (handheld and computer-based) that answered their “what if” questions whenever they occurred whether or not an official teacher was present.  It levels the “playing field” for all students of mathematics and grants them access to understandable answers that sometimes result from intervening mathematics beyond the current reach of the explorers.  It is one more tool that can be used to lure the curious into the beautiful worlds of mathematics and patterns.

But if all students and teachers have access to calculation/graphing/manipulation tools that are far faster than any handheld calculator, how can we possibly justify charging (or asking) families to pay even more?  The only argument posted in the discussion group in response concerns high stakes testing.  Real or not, that strikes me as an anemic response for many reasons.

  • We already ask families (or all tax-payers via school-funded testing) to shell out huge sums for annual testing.
  • Testing already occupies a disproportionately (and dis-appropriately?) large amount of the focus of many schools.
  • If math and science “explorers” already have laptops, won’t requiring them to learn the specific workings of handhelds just take up more classroom time that should be spent on content?
  • Are we really so wedded to testing that we are willing to spend extra time, money, and other resources to keep it in place?

As much as my students and I have grown from the presence of graphing calculators in their hands over my years as a math teacher, is it time to say goodbye to my old friend, the handheld calculator?

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2 responses to “The Demise of Graphing Calculators?

  1. Pingback: Calculators and Testing II | CAS Musings

  2. Doug Kuhlmann

    I do not think it is quite yet time to say goodbye to the GC. While we are close to having a laptop in every student’s hand–we might not even be close, yet–we are still not there. The awkward time comes when many schools have a 1-1 laptop program while many others do not. Similar to the case when many schools jumped into GC’s but the AP Calc exam required scientific calculators. I suspect a similar thing might happen with laptops. The transition to most schools having 1-1 laptops will be much longer than the transition to GC’s took.

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