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United States Businesses Education Math The Almighty Buck

The Reign of the $100 Graphing Calculator Required By Every US Math Class Is Finally Ending (engadget.com) 281

If you took a math class at some point in the US, there is likely a bulky $100 calculator gathering dust somewhere in your closet. Fast forward to today, and the Texas Instruments 84 -- or the TI 84-Plus, or the TI-89 or any of the other even more expensive hardware variants -- is quickly losing relevance. Engadget adds: Thanks to a new deal, they'll soon get a free option. Starting this spring, pupils in 14 US states will be able to use the TI-like Desmos online calculator during standardized testing run by the Smarter Balanced consortium. "We think students shouldn't have to buy this old, underpowered device anymore," Desmos CEO Eli Luberoff said. The Desmos calculator will be embedded directly into the assessments, meaning students will have access during tests with no need for an external device. It'll also be available to students in grades 6 through 8 and high school throughout the year. The calculator is free to use, and the company makes money by charging organizations to use it, according to Bloomberg.
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The Reign of the $100 Graphing Calculator Required By Every US Math Class Is Finally Ending

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  • Free? Or Not Free? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dj245 ( 732906 ) on Monday May 15, 2017 @03:02PM (#54421155) Homepage
    The calculator is free to use, and the company makes money by charging organizations to use it, according to Bloomberg.

    Sounds like it is not free to me.
  • Meh! Graphing Calculator we used (think it was an HP) allowed for programming on it. So we played games on it during class.

    Then when it was time for exams, we wrote the formulas we were supposed to memorise into programs on the calculator.

    • It is now common practice to do a full memory reset just before any standardized examination.

      • by OhPlz ( 168413 ) on Monday May 15, 2017 @03:53PM (#54421723)

        Which is why the TI-85 was better than the TI-81. You could fake the reset screen perfectly.

      • It is now common practice to do a full memory reset just before any standardized examination.

        I'm wondering :
        Nowadays with extremely powerful (relatively to calculators) CPUs available in very small form factors -
        has anyone attempted to built one (say a RaspPi Zero) inside a calculator sell,
        programmed to mimick the "exam mode memory reset" in a believable way, but then unleash all its potential to the end user (full blown programmability, ability to use modern math language like R, Octave, Maxima, etc. Scripting with Python/Perl)?

      • It is now common practice to do a full memory reset just before any standardized examination.

        I typed "fake memory reset" into google and the top autosuggestion was "fake memory reset ti-84" and the top result for that was "fake [brandonw.net]". Do they update your OS before the exam, too?

    • Then when it was time for exams, we wrote the formulas we were supposed to memorise into programs on the calculator.

      Same. Gave me my most valuable lesson in programming. I made a helper program on my calculator and distributed it to a few friends who distributed it to their friends, and so on. The program had a few options (depending on what was being asked, how the question was worded, etc.), prompted the user for the 'givens', and printed the result neatly in the center of the screen. Being young and naive, I simply wrote the result to the screen with an offset, then wrote a few blank spaces over the ten-thousandths an

      • Same. Gave me my most valuable lesson in programming

        There were two groups of people, some just typed in the equations and edited the program during the test. Others build full programs. By time I got to the test it was muscle memory because I had to do dozens of test cases by hand to make sure my program was right.

        Even printed out every 'step' so that I could show my work on the test.

        • Even printed out every 'step' so that I could show my work on the test.

          I hope it only did that if you passed the -v option!

    • If the students are allowed online for the tests now, they might find this webapp helpful: https://www.wolframalpha.com/ [wolframalpha.com]

    • Meh! Graphing Calculator we used (think it was an HP) allowed for programming on it. So we played games on it during class.

      Then when it was time for exams, we wrote the formulas we were supposed to memorise into programs on the calculator.

      TA: Why do you have a calculator for your Spanish exam?

      ME: (thInking quickly) ummmm.. because I have a math exam next!

  • by dslauson ( 914147 ) on Monday May 15, 2017 @03:05PM (#54421189) Journal
    They've had a good run of doing nothing and not updating their hardware or software in any kind of meaningful way for the past couple decades. No other company would have been so neglectful to such a profitable product line.
    • by green1 ( 322787 ) on Monday May 15, 2017 @03:12PM (#54421267)

      I don't think it's the lack of updating the product that did it in, there's no way they could have realistically competed with the average smartphone. In fact, they haven't been able to compete with the average smart phone for many years now.

      What TI apparently failed to do was update their brib^H^H^H^Hlobbying. After all this was a government mandated profit stream, you have to work to maintain those!

      • by johanw ( 1001493 )

        Just download this emulator: https://play.google.com/store/... [google.com] and get the original TI ROM image from the TI website.

      • They could compete on price if they wanted to. If they were $10-20, I would buy one just to have dedicated hardware buttons and a separate screen. Maybe I'd own 1 or 2. As it is, I have no need. Your average $8 greeting card has as much horsepower as these things - they should just admit it and drop the price to where it belongs.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        I'd love to buy a calculator with real hardware keys, large screen and Android OS. Make a no-wifi version for education.

      • I don't think it's the lack of updating the product that did it in, there's no way they could have realistically competed with the average smartphone.

        The feature set of the graphing calculator is its lack of feature set. While the most determined students will find ways to use it to cheat, most students won't, because you can't google on it. (I'm sure someone will come up with a counterexample now. But you get the point.)

        However, with computer-proctored examinations now being commonplace, there's no real need for students to actually carry a computer into the classroom. There's already a computer there. This approach makes a lot more sense, and what's m

    • unlimted student loans drive this as well as textbooks that get changed all the time with little real change but with lot's of profit / and kick backs to schools.

    • HP quit the scientific calculator business in 2003 [hpcalc.org]. Til then, they were the main competitor with TI for the high-end calculator business. TI has had a free ride since then.

      I use an HP48 emulator [google.com] on my smartphone. But I can understand students being upset about classes requiring a TI calculator because the teachers ban smartphones during tests. I remember when the HP28C was first released, some enterprising students figured out a way to use its IR transmitter/receiver to communicate with each other du
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      They've had a good run of doing nothing and not updating their hardware or software in any kind of meaningful way for the past couple decades. No other company would have been so neglectful to such a profitable product line.

      You don't understand, nor do those who upvoted you. TI has been updating their product lines all along, and that's the problem. What???!!?!?

      The newer, better calculators have all sorts of wonderful features, like the ability to totally cheat in several ways. Ultimately, they can store text, so kids can put all kinds of stuff on there.

      The TI-84 was basically the last calculator that they made which is good for helping students with calculation but not with cheating.

      https://www.washingtonpost.com... [washingtonpost.com]

      • I understand that innovation for innovation's sake is not necessarily what this specific market calls for, but there's no way that the hardware they are selling should cost what they're charging. That's the problem. They should either find a way to make it better, or find a way to make it cheaper. Continuing to sell the same ancient hardware for the same inflated price is neglectful, and they're begging to have somebody else eat their lunch in the free market.
        • by epine ( 68316 )

          I understand that innovation for innovation's sake is not necessarily what this specific market calls for, but there's no way that the hardware they are selling should cost what they're charging.

          You don't understand as well as you think you do.

          Maintaining this tired, obsolete technology in long-term stasis is a feature not a bug, and it's priced accordingly.

          Whether this remains the right testing methodology is another question entirely.

          Malcolm Gladwell on Why We Shouldn't Value Speed Over Power [heleo.com] — 13 A

      • The simple solution is this: if you're going to allow calculators at all during tests, then you use a batch of them (with bright orange cases) that are all owned by the school and fully reset after each use. Kids can use whatever they want for their homework, but they have to use those for the test.
    • While the calculators are certainly lucrative, they're hardly TI's primary business, which may account for the neglect. Also, honestly, outside of dropping the price what do they really need to add to the current line of calculators? And given the truly massive margins they have on the calculators I wouldnt be surprised if they're response to this kind of threat is exactly that: drop the price.
  • It's about time! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by green1 ( 322787 ) on Monday May 15, 2017 @03:05PM (#54421193)

    A couple of decades ago it almost made sense, but now that every student has a more powerful device in their pocket already, it's ridiculous that they've been forced to shell out so much money for such an antiquated device.

    • I have Maxima on my phone. I could even add Octave if I wanted, but the use case for that is somewhat less clear. (There's also the Xcas Pad, but I'm slightly less comfortable with using it, even if it is largely compatible with my HP Prime.)
    • by MBGMorden ( 803437 ) on Monday May 15, 2017 @03:17PM (#54421333)

      I think to some degree though the "antiquated device" is a an anti-cheating tool. A smartphone is so powerful that it's hard to allow them in a classroom without rampant cheating being easily accomplished. I mean heck you could even send pictures of questions to another person and have them doing them and sending answers back.

      With a graphing calculator you're limited to at most unapproved programs (or storing equations into the programming mode).

    • The device in their pocket is no help during testing scenarios. The graphics calculator also no more powerful than being able to do everything that it needs. There's nothing antiquated about it.

      One part of your post rings true though, there's no reason anyone should shell out that much money for a device with a $10 BOM. I say keep the graphics calculator as they are and instead do something about the price.

    • by johanw ( 1001493 )

      Indeed, although I like the TI and HP emulators on Android for nostalgic reasons, I prefer to do real wotk with this https://play.google.com/store/... [google.com] (or the paid version https://play.google.com/store/... [google.com]). Much better interface than those old calculators.

    • by cstacy ( 534252 )

      The point is that they are deliberately limiting the power available to you.
      You're not allowed to use Macsyma, access Wolfram databases, etc.
      You're supposed to know how to solve the problem using a particular
      tool set that happens to be implemented by the authorized device.
      That's what the test is.

    • Even then, it was been a problem. Casio have offered competitively priced calculators for decades that are approved for all the major tests.

      Teachers however know how to use a TI calculator and therefore won't allow or actively discourage the use of the cheaper alternative.

      • by Megane ( 129182 )

        Having gone to college in the '80s, I can't imagine why you would need a graphing function on a calculator when taking a test, or even for doing homework. A plain old Casio non-programmable scientific/financial calculator should be more than sufficient. Even that algebraic entry crap is excessive.

        I'm sort of okay with using a screen that size like adding machine tape to make sure you entered stuff correctly, but you should still be writing down intermediate results most of the time anyhow.

  • Slide Rule (Score:5, Funny)

    by MountainLogic ( 92466 ) on Monday May 15, 2017 @03:12PM (#54421275) Homepage
    I'm waiting for a kid to get expelled for bringing in his grandfather's real slide rule because the slide rule is an unauthorized "cheating device" not covered by a school board approved EULA.
  • by Murdoch5 ( 1563847 ) on Monday May 15, 2017 @03:13PM (#54421279)
    You don't need more than a $10, simple, scientific calculator, it will have all the features you need. Instead of giving kids a tool that prevents them from learning the concepts, why not have them learn the concepts and provide them a simple tool to help them along the way.

    When I took calculus, advanced calculus, and vector calculus, we weren't allowed to have a calculator in the classroom or exams, because once you got the equation you needed, in the right form, the answer didn't matter. This is how every child should learn math.

    Even in engineering school, I don't remember actually needing my calculator for very much, besides crunching a final answer, which was a very small amount of the overall work.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by thegarbz ( 1787294 )

      You had stupid classes, nothing more. We used our graphics calculators and their functionality quite extensively, and they are still far better to use than cheap scientific calculators.

      There's nothing in them to justify their price, but they are an invaluable tool.

      because once you got the equation you needed, in the right form, the answer didn't matter.

      Calculus is about the equation. A graphics calculator is of little help for calculus. Calculus is also only a small part of mathematics, and if you get to engineering then nothing is more important than the final answer.

      You don't get part marks if

      • I agree with your final statement, but that's it. Of course the final answer matters, but if you got the point where you just need to plug in the numbers to get your answer, then use your calculator, but if you needed handholding to get to that point, then I don't want to drive on that bridge.
    • by hawguy ( 1600213 )

      You don't need more than a $10, simple, scientific calculator, it will have all the features you need. Instead of giving kids a tool that prevents them from learning the concepts, why not have them learn the concepts and provide them a simple tool to help them along the way.

      When I took calculus, advanced calculus, and vector calculus, we weren't allowed to have a calculator in the classroom or exams, because once you got the equation you needed, in the right form, the answer didn't matter. This is how every child should learn math.

      Even in engineering school, I don't remember actually needing my calculator for very much, besides crunching a final answer, which was a very small amount of the overall work.

      So you didn't need to use a calculator except to find the actual answer? What if the question is "Plot a curve of this function", do you get out the graph paper, calculate the values at a number of points along the curve and then draw it by hand?

      • Yes, you get out graph paper and plot it by hand, showing you know how to actually handle the equation. Of course if the work involved had to do with getting to the point of the equation that the curve came out of, and the final part of the answer, after all the work is done, is to graph it, then sure, just plug it into the calculator, but make sure you know what you're doing from the start.
    • You don't need more than a $10, simple, scientific calculator, it will have all the features you need. Instead of giving kids a tool that prevents them from learning the concepts, why not have them learn the concepts and provide them a simple tool to help them along the way. When I took calculus, advanced calculus, and vector calculus, we weren't allowed to have a calculator in the classroom or exams, because once you got the equation you needed, in the right form, the answer didn't matter. This is how every child should learn math. Even in engineering school, I don't remember actually needing my calculator for very much, besides crunching a final answer, which was a very small amount of the overall work.

      Maybe if you weren't allowed to use a real graphing calculator with symbolic algebra sure. But when I took my calculus exams, and in classes using applied calculus and time consuming calculations (one exam took 7 pages of hand written equations for a single problem) students who could afford a Ti or other calculator had a major advantage. Being able to check your work quickly, get the answer and backtrack, among many other advantages was massive. True story in that a friend didn't use one, missed a minus

      • Wow, really? So you got full credit because your calculator solved the problem for you, but they guy that made a stupid mistake but showed he understood the concepts better using his brain got half credit? Glad I wasn't in that class...

        My parents bought me an HP-48 because the university said I had to have one. Graduated with honors in Mechanical Engineering, and the ONLY thing I used the HP-48 for was to play tetris. (Yeah, okay there was one math class where we graphed a couple of equations one week to

  • So buying up all those calculators at rummage sales isn't going to pay for my retirement after all? Damnit!
  • Obligitory XKCD (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jfdavis668 ( 1414919 ) on Monday May 15, 2017 @03:18PM (#54421345)
  • and so now the network / internet need to be up for the test??

    If it drops will they add time even if they need to keep kids late?

    Will an network drop force you to start over?

    Will kids put down fun still like 404 error on there test?

  • How is this phone app embedded into standardized testing, which I assume is done on normal computers without touchscreens? Using a calculator is clunky without a touchscreen - typing numbers using the keyboard may be easy, but clicking on other buttons (or memorizing keyboard shortcuts) sounds like it'll slow them down.

  • by cstacy ( 534252 ) on Monday May 15, 2017 @03:28PM (#54421449)

    So now they can watch you actually push the buttons on the calculator in real time.

    I am sure this will be mined for scientific research about how students
    solve particular wordings of problems in a testing environment.
    It will also be used for R&D purposes by the SaaS company,
    and ultimately for marketing purposes.

    The information will not be adequately protected.
    And most importantly, the human subjects have not really given informed consent.
    Which makes me wonder what other information is already being collected.

    Bob took 4:39 to solve problem number 117, and here was his approach.
    Bob is therefore highly qualified for problem categories 114-A and 96-Y,
    but performs poorly along the 191 axis of all problems with time limit G.
    If the problem involves "donuts" his performance goes up by 0.3 %.

    You always knew this would be on your Permanent Record,
    don't say you weren't warned.

    • Fully agree. This business model is making me sick.

      This may be controversial, but I actually think this is getting close to communism, something the USA had been fighting against for decades. Giving stuff for free to the people in exchange for their privacy and having control over how/when it's used/can be used. Not owning stuff anymore, just being allowed to used it for a limited time and conditions. Isn't that ironical? Am I the only one getting this nauseous impression?

      As to the actual calculator
  • ...If you took a math class at some point in the US, there is likely a bulky $100 calculator gathering dust somewhere in your closet. ...

    Though I do also still have the HP-35 calculator that replaced my slide rule.

  • Not underpowered (Score:4, Insightful)

    by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Monday May 15, 2017 @03:33PM (#54421517)

    What more power could you want for a device that instantly spits out the answer you give it? The TI calculators aren't underpowered in the slightest, they are simply over priced.

    As for "bulky" the vast majority of the size is made up of lovely big and easy to use buttons. I don't think any device would be better served with a context menu and a touchscreen or god forbid endless amounts of whitespace with every useful function buried somewhere 4 menus deep without context of where in in the system you currently are.

    • Good point! The TI calculators could be slightly improved, but those would be very minor improvements, mostly centered around a better-quality screen.

      I will say, a smartphone app is a great companion. If I had to do some serious calculations, I'd rather have real buttons. But I'd also like to have an equivalent app on my phone for those times when I don't have my calculator with me.

    • The TI calculators use, IIRC, a Z80. Pretty underpowered for anything beyond quadratic equations. Great for battery life, though.
  • Real math majors used HP-28S calculators.
    Brilliant piece of gear. Still works flawlessly nearly 30 years later. And of course, the best feature was RPN.

    So take your Ti toys away, I've got real work to do.

    (/h)

    • Still have my HP 48G. While it looks like a dinosaur now compared to other tools, that thing was great for doing a lot of stuff back in the 90s. And it still works great today. You just have to throw in some AAAs to get it going again. (Just don't pull out the last AAA or you lose your data ;)).
  • For my son's middle school we had to purchase a TI-84 Plus at the start of the school year. My son was excited at first, because it looked complex and that somehow made it exciting to use. This quickly waned and he found it frustrating. It was even more frustrating as his math teacher used Desmos in class during instruction. After a frustrating night, he downloaded Desmos to his android phone and the TI-84 hasn't been picked up since then. Between Desmos, HiPER Calc, and Math 42 apps on his phone, the days
  • The Desmos calculator will be embedded directly into the assessments, meaning students will have access during tests with no need for an external device.

    Back when I was in school, tests were done on paper, written with pencil. Is that no longer the case? The reason I ask is: partial credit. If a student did a good job, showing their work, but ultimately got the wrong answer, a teacher could still give credit for the portions that were correct. Is that sort of thing possible on modern tests? (Unfortunately, the article doesn't describe how they work - it just assumes I already know.)

    • Yes and no. In class - lower levels often use response clickers for tests projected on smart boards, but higher math classes (late MS and HS) still have paper tests, at least in our school district. Partial credit is at the discretion of the teacher. However, all standardized state tests are on computer. You get a standard calculator (TI graphing style) from a common supply and pencil/paper for scratch, but that's it. You add 2 and 2 and get 5 on a Calculus exam and the whole problem is marked wrong.

  • I'm just feeling nostalgic... I knew a little about programming when I was in school, so I wrote tons of programs on my TI calculator. Basically, in every lesson, when I learned a new math concept, I'd write a little program that could do most of the work for me. This meant that I was learning both math and programming. Naturally, I'd tend to forget a lot of those math concepts after I'd finished writing the program, but that pretty much describes my day job now.

  • I still use my TI-85, twenty years later. Sure, it's antiquated at this point, but by now I've just gotten so used to the layout and functions that I don't know what I'm going to do when it finally goes.

    There's a TI-81 around here somewhere also; that one I don't use any more.

  • There is not much substitute for the ease of entering in equations the way you see them written in books than the TI line of calculators.

    Rather than schools spending $100 to get a physical device that will last decades, they've been roped in by Pearson's (of course) to a subscription model.

    So now instead of having a small dedicated device that's exceptional at doing math and will last 20-30 years, you get to have a bulky laptop and internet connection and subscription.

    Which somehow is cheaper for schools than buying TI calculators.

    TI doesn't upgrade the calculators much because again, they're intended to last decades. They're not in the business of making things obsolete like textbook companies such as Pearson.

    Maybe if Pearson could make a decent textbook that doesn't need yearly updates, schools could afford proper tools for their students.

    • there's better calcs than the 84. Kids pick it because if you get stuck your teacher knows how to work it. Assuming this takes off it'll become the standard for the same reason.

      Math teachers aren't necessarily good with gadgets and computers. Teaching is an entirely different skill set.
  • It's sounds like a lot of dosh for something they'll use once, but why don't they sell them on to the next cohort after the exam?

    You could plot the price progression on the calculator.

  • We were only required to get a TI-36x solar model. Those are far cheaper and extremely capable. They're also approved for use on the SAT and ACTs. Any graphing calculator was replaced by us having to draw the graph ourselves, which is how most math classes work from what I've heard.
  • I don't see how a calculator with no physical buttons is superior to one that is a tactile object, and as the calculator is "embedded" into the test itself, that means switching back and forth between the two apps. This is a bad kludge that sounds painful to use.
  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Monday May 15, 2017 @06:59PM (#54422997)
    all the articles I've read have been short on details. How exactly do you do a graphing calc app without making it open to cheating? There's tons of these apps on the various app stores.
  • Two words (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jgfenix ( 2584513 ) on Monday May 15, 2017 @07:10PM (#54423067)
    Physical keys
  • 20 years from now (Score:4, Insightful)

    by OrangeTide ( 124937 ) on Monday May 15, 2017 @09:40PM (#54423753) Homepage Journal

    Wait long enough and start-ups like Desmos will be gone. But my TI-85 still works and I still have my data from when I was in high school, ... 20 years ago.

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