Thursday, October 01, 2015


I teach students how to do statistics on a variety of platforms:  TI-30s (because our school has tons of them, and they're good for 1-variable and 2-variable data); TI-83s, because their stats functions are easily accessible; Excel, because it's so versatile and has an OK "data analysis toolpak" add-on; and Minitab, because it's ubiquitous in statistics classes and does a great job.  I also show students Mystat, the free version of Systat, so they can have data analysis software at home.  I'm not devoted to any of these tools in particular; I teach them all, giving students a broad base of stats tools knowledge from which to draw whenever they need it.  And if you're wondering, I do teach the formulas and insist on plenty of pencil-and-paper calculations before we start pushing buttons; anything less would be what I call "black box" math, where you learn more about using the technology than you do about learning the math.

The author of this piece, though, is not a fan of Texas Instruments:
You remember the TI-83: the brick-sized graphing machine you likely covered in stickers and used to send messages, spell out obscenities, play games and maybe do some math, if you were paying close enough attention. Some students today will be the second generation to use it. 

The TI-83 was released in 1996, when mobile phones had antennas and PCs were mostly used for word processing. In 1996, Google was born. It was also the year of the Palm Pilot and Hotmail. Microsoft Office '97 debuted on a floppy disk. You could install the Internet on your computer with a CD from AOL.

In fact, the TI-83 existed for half a decade before the iPod, which became smaller and more powerful for generations before it, too, became obsolete. The iPod made way for the smartphone, a computational powerhouse — the size of, well, a calculator — that is quickly taking over the world.

Technology has not yet killed the reliable old TI-83. Nearly 20 years later, students are still forced to use a prohibitively expensive piece of outdated technology. It's not because better tools aren't available; they exist, and some of them are even free. It's because Texas Instruments, the company that creates them, has a staggering monopoly in the field of high school mathematics. The American education system is addicted to Texas Instruments.
I don't know that anything the author says is wrong, I just don't know how important it is.

Keep in mind that I teach in California.  It's against the law for me to require students to purchase a calculator for class or to charge any fee not specifically authorized by law.  (Yes, I know that plenty of teachers and schools violate that little section of our ed code, but I do not.)  So yes, I do have a classroom set of TI-83s, and they're available for student use when we're specifically covering their use.  I've seen the stats functions on newer calculators and still find the TI-83s to be the most user friendly for what I teach.

The phone apps I've seen for stats aren't exceptional, and finding free ones for iOS (remember, I can't have students incur a charge) makes the process even more difficult.  I'm OK with continuing the use of TI-83s--they're perfectly serviceable--until a better product comes along.  No sense in getting rid of them just because they're older than my students; they still do more math than a high schooler will ever learn!


Anonymous said...

Really, you think the TI-83 is more user friendly for stats than the TI-84? I've been teaching Gen Ed Stats for several semesters now with a loaner 83 from my school, but this semester I've finally taken the plunge and bought my own 84. I would think that the 84 is friendlier than the 83 at least with regards to the stats functions because the screens walk you through the parameters it expects to be fed, whereas with the 83 you have to remember which parameters it wants, and in what order. Furthermore, the 84 has the inverse t function, which if I recall correctly, is not included on the 83, so you're stuck using tables at that point.

I'm not a huge fan of calculators, but they are great for handling tedious computations.

PeggyU said...

They are pretty pricey. I have an 89 that I like to use because it has pretty much everything I need. I also keep an 84 handy because the matrix features are easier to use. For most graphing, though, I tell students to use Desmos.

Joshua Sasmor said...

My only issue with the TI-83 ended with the latest version - the color screen makes the $130 price worth it. Until this version, there had been basically no change in the item in the last 20 years, and no price pressure on the product (the Casio and HP graphing calculators weren't real competitors). If the price had gone down, or the hardware improved, I would have been OK with the price. Now I see that happening.

I also have an iPad, and the graphing is wonderful on that, but the fact that the internet is always available means I have to limit their use in testing.

Auntie Ann said...

We had to buy one (actually the TI-84) for our kid's Algebra II class this year (private school, so no laws against it) for the lovely price of $108.

What is really dumb about it at her school, is that the students are already *required* to have a laptop with them every day in every class. Why can't they just use their computers to do the graphing?

Now, the kids have to carry yet more item in their overloaded backpacks.

Ellen K said...

TI-83's haven't gotten smaller because now they include far more capability than they did twenty years ago. Sounds like someone tried to sell to a district and didn't get the bid.

Darren said...

Anonymous--I knew calculators like the Inspire had the "walk thru" menus, but they're not as easy to get to as they are on the 83. If the 84 has them easy to get to, then I would definitely modify my comment. TBH, I haven't encountered 84s, just 89s and Inspires, so that's where my original comment came from.

CyberChalky said...

I'm confused as to why you are still talking about TI-83 (or near versions) - in Australia, we use the TI-nspire or the Casio Classpad - both ridiculously more powerful and functional.

I don't like them - and I particularly don't like the way they are *mandated* in the Australian senior curriculum. A student *cannot* pass without demonstrating competence with them, and so all students buy one (at about AUD230) at the start of Year 11. The latest update has a "computer algebra system" so it can logically, step-by-step, solve quite complex algebraic equations (up to PDE level).

I don't see an advantage in using them, particularly as university level mathematics course specifically exclude them.

Anonymous said...

Do kids actually learn anything by using these calculators? Or are they just plugging and chugging to get a graph that looks vaguely similar to what is expected? Graphing by hand with pencil and paper is a pain, but IMHO it teaches you more about how functions work.

socalmike said...

I don't have a problem with either the 83 or 84, but after the pencil and paper, I'd probably use Excel more than anything. We use it extensively in our engineering program here, and I love the versatility. Once the kids learn some of the bells and whistles, and once they see how to insert a formula into a cell, they are golden.

Darren said...

CyberChalky, the only class in which I use these calculators is statistics, and the stats functions are more easily accessible on the 83 than on the Inspire. Additionally, it is against the law here in California for me to require students to purchase a calculator--yes, I know some schools do it, and will continue to do it until they get sued and can no longer get away with it, but I choose to follow the law in this case.

When I took over our stats program I inherited TI-83s and have a classroom set of them so that's what I use. I figure if students are required to purchase calculators in college, they'll be able to figure out how to use them based on their knowledge of the 83.

Darren said...

Anonymous--I don't use these calculators for the graphing of functions, as in an Algebra 2, pre-calculus, or calculus class. I use them *only* in stats--in pre-calculus I require students to graph by hand. On the other hand, our Advanced Placement Calculus teachers teach with the Inspire since it's all but required on the AP tests....