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Through elementary school, math classes include building math skills, developing numeracy, and understanding processes behind basic calculations. Calculators in elementary school are discouraged and sometimes even feel like "cheating" since they often interfere with that numeracy and skill building and give answers to basic calculations without understanding the processes behind them. That starts to change in junior high. By junior high, students understand the processes behind basic calculations and with their numeracy strengthened, we begin to use calculators as a tool to speed up our processes, and to free up brain processing power to more complicated math topics.
Scholar Academy has a classroom set of TI Nspire Calculators that students will have access to while in my classroom. These are powerful machines, that are more like handheld computers than calculators. In addition to the basic functions of a calculator, with the TI Nspire, students can graph relationships, build and analyze scatterplots, create programs to analyze geometric relationships, write simple computer codes, etc. Additionally, the classroom set of calculators communicates directly with my own computer so I can get real-time feedback from students, allowing me to analyze their understanding and adjust my teaching on the spot.
As you can imagine, these calculators, with all their capabilities are quite expensive, and as such, they are not allowed to leave my classroom. Students will want and need some sort of calculator for use at home. Below is a list of calculator recommendations if you are looking to purchase a personal calculator for home use. You will notice that nearly all my recommendations are Texas Instruments (TI) brand. I have used Texas Instruments calculators exclusively for the last twenty-five years and so I am very familiar their operating systems. Other calculators may be just as good and just as affordable, but I simply don’t have the experience with them to make solid recommendations. When purchasing a calculator, be sure to check Amazon, BestBuy, Staples, Walmart, and Target to find the best deal.
It is important that students who have smart phones or other electronic devices do not use the calculator that is standard on their device. These built-in calculators will be very frustrating to students because they don’t work the same way ours do in class. I have recommendations for calculator apps below.
Desmos Scientific - a free online scientific calculator
Scientific Calculators (non-graphing)
The TI 30XS Multiview Scientific Calculator earns my highest recommendation. Students tend to love this calculator as it will add, subtract, multiply, divide, and simplify fractions. Although these are skills students learned in previous mathematics courses, they can be tedious to continue to do by hand, which is why this calculator can be helpful for middle school students. This calculator will do exactly what middle school students will need and last through the end of high school, including exploring a table of values, trigonometry, and basic two-variable statistics. This calculator is not a graphing calculator which keeps the price between $15 and $25 at most retailers.
TI-30XIIS Scientific Calculator will do many of the same things as the TI 30XS including fractions, though the way fractions are entered, and answers are given, is not as straight forward as the other option. This calculator does not allow students to explore a table of values but will handle trigonometry and basic two-variable statistics. This calculator is also not a graphing calculator, so the price is between $10 and $25 at most retailers.
TI-34 Multiview Scientific Calculator continues to do many of the same things as the previously mentioned calculators. It cannot handle tables of values, but fractions are handled in a more straight-forward way than the TI-30XIIS, entered into the calculator just as you would see it on paper. This calculator is not a graphing calculator, price is between $15 and $25.
Graphing Calculators are what many parents might remember from their days in high school and are still an option for at home use, however, the price for a graphing calculator jumps considerably. Parents might remember the TI-83 plus, an option still available today with a price starting around $80. The TI-84 plus is an improved version of the older model and starts around $90. The TI- Nspire (the calculator we use in class) is available to purchase, though is quite a bit more expensive starting at $120. Although a graphing calculator can be helpful in 8th grade and beyond, with the great free calculators available online or through smart phone applications, it is not necessary to make the investment in a graphing calculator for at home use.
A free scientific calculator can be accessed through any internet browser through Desmos: https://www.desmos.com/scientific . This scientific calculator is at least as good as the calculators recommended above.
A free graphing calculator can be accessed through any internet browser through Desmos: https://www.desmos.com/calculator . This graphing calculator is at least as good as any graphing calculator mentioned above, and better in some ways because it is very intuitive.
In addition to the free calculators accessed through any internet browser, students with smart phones can download the Desmos applications to their phones and have a graphing calculator app and a scientific calculator app. These apps are completely free, easily found in Apple and Google Play app stores, and work far better than the built-in calculators that are standard on electronic devices.