Continuing to build their brand as a way to teach and learn STEM skills in the classroom, Texas Instruments has announced exciting new hardware, the TIInnovator Hub. The TIInnovator was created using the TI LaunchPad^{™} Board technology and is designed as a classroom tool that introduces students to coding and engineering design.
“The TIInnovator allows students to get handson with technology and not even realize they are learning important STEM principles, like coding, that they need to be successful in the classroom today, in college tomorrow and in their careers in the future,” said Peter Balyta, Ph.D., president of TI Education Technology. “The opportunities for exploration are endless; students’ imaginations are their only limits.”
Promotional videos and photos show students using the TIInnovator to code and interact with robots using their Texas Instruments. Best of all, the device works on both major TI platforms, the TINspire CX and TI84 Plus CE. I’m quite interested to try it out and hope to review it soon from the perspective of a long time educator and current STEM practitioner.
]]>My TINspire Tutorials Vol 1 book will be free on Amazon this day. This book is designed for beginners to the TINspire platform. It covers how to navigate the menu system on the Nspire, use calculator features, graphing, statistics, and a lot more. On Tuesday, click here to get the book for free.
My TINspire Tutorials Vol 2 book will be $.99 on Amazon this day. This book is designed for students and teachers that want to learn the CAS specific features of the TINspire CAS. On Wednesday, follow this link to get Vol 2 for under $1.
My TI84 Plus tutorials book will be free on Amazon this day. This book is designed for beginners to the TI84 Plus platform and covers a wide variety of features from basic calculator features to graphing to calculus and statistics features. On Thursday, this link will take you to my TI84 Plus book for free.
If you find any of my books helpful, would you please consider writing a review on Amazon? It is very difficult for selfpublished books like mine to compete, and having some good reviews really helps. Thanks for your support!
]]>If you’ve never seen my books on Amazon before, you can check them out here:
A couple of requests if you are willing to indulge me:
1) If you’ve already purchased the books and they’ve been helpful to you, would you consider doing a review? It really helps me out as an independent author that does not have the resources of the “big boys.”
2) If you’ve never purchased the books, but would like copies, hold off just a bit longer. I’m still working out the details, but I’m going to run some special promotions on Amazon next week. I’ll give you the opportunity to get them for free, or close to free, and I’ll let anyone who follows this blog on my social media channels now about it when it happens.
]]>Once again, it’s time to update my calculator recommendations for the 201617 school year. Each year around back to school time, I try to create a list to reflect the changes that have happened with new models and new operating systems and share my thoughts as a long time teacher about what the best graphing calculators are in a classroom setting. When I started blogging on Tech Powered Math back in 2010, it wasn’t a thing to have a graphing calculator with a color screen. Today? Most students wouldn’t think of going without color.
As always, I suggest you first decide whether you need a CAS or nonCAS graphing calculator. Before I give you my 2016 calculator recommendations, let’s review the differences between these two.
So what is a CAS calculator? A CAS is a computer algebra system. CAS calculators can solve equations, manipulate variables, factor, and more. Basically, these calculators are capable of solving problems with x and y, like x + x = 2x. Once you get into sophisticated calculations involving variables, this is a lot of power. They are welcomed in some circles, such as AP calculus, the SAT, and many high school and college classrooms. However, they are banned by the ACT and some teachers who feel they can do a little too much. Consider your college testing plans and your school’s math department policies before deciding on a CAS vs. nonCAS calculator.
Without further delay, here are my picks for the best calculators for the 201617 school year.
Best Graphing Calculator for Students
For me, the calculator of this decade is the TINspire CX, and it’s easy to see why. Texas Instruments brought graphing calculators into the 21st century with this one. It has computer like features including drop down menus, point and click interface, and file/folder features. Graphing features were tremendously simplified over most other graphing calculators, and the resolution is high, making it easy to see the math operations that look exactly like they do in your textbook. I love the features its statistics and geometry software offer, and feel they enhanced my classes greatly. As a long time teacher, I also feel like recent TINspire OS updates (released about once a year) brought this calculator to another level, giving it the ability to graph equations written in “x=” form from simple lines to advanced conic sections. Am I biased? Sure! Can you blame me? My students used the TINspire on their way to the 2012 Illinois state math team championship and while putting up AP Statistics and AP Calculus scores that dramatically exceeded the national average. When you have seen a product help your students learn and achieve success at that level, you’re bound to get a little enthusiastic with your recommendation.
Please click here to buy your TINspire CX on Amazon with FREE shipping.
While the TINspire CX models are my favorite for students, there is another strong option from each of the big three calculator manufacturers: Texas Instruments, Casio, and HP. Let’s take a look at the other options if you decide not to go the TINspire route.
Texas Instruments continues to update their most popular graphing calculator of all time, the TI84 Plus. The newest model, the TI84 Plus CE, gives the Nspire a run for its money with a very thin, light design, a color screen, and a battery than can literally go for months without charging when in “sleep” mode. Like many of the models on this list, the new TI84 Plus CE can now graph on images as well. It is a big step up from older, black and white versions of the TI84 Plus, and it doesn’t cost much more. If you are going to buy a TI84, I’d strongly recommend going ahead and paying the extra $10 or so to get the color edition. For back to school 201617, Texas Instruments has introduced two new colors for the TI84 Plus CE, “Golden Ratio” and “Bright White.”
Please click here to buy your TI84 Plus CE on Amazon with FREE shipping.
Students who want an uptodate graphing calculator and go to schools with math departments that are still strongly behind the widely accepted TI84 Plus platform, the most universally accepted graphing calculator in the history of United States math education.
The Casio Prizm continues to be the most underrated graphing calculator on the market today. I consider it the easiest graphing calculator to use. This nonCAS calculator offers a lot of easy to use features that you won’t find in most other nonCAS graphing calculators. It simplifies radicals, finds exact trig values, and uses textbook format for it’s math symbols, meaning you don’t waste a lot of time learning calculator syntax. It’s graphing features are also very cool, as the Prizm will find yintercepts, solve for x values given a y value, even integrate between two curves. Much like the TINspire CX, the Prizm has a full color screen and the ability to load images. Casio has also been good about issuing OS updates, including a recent one that gave the Prizm the ability to do the periodic table of elements. Since it doesn’t have a CAS, it’s also a terrific calculator for the ACT.
Students who need a calculator that is simple to pick up and use without much assistance from their teacher. Also, students on a budget, as Casio has made this the most affordable option on my list, the only one that consistently sells for under $100 on Amazon.
Please click here to buy the Casio Prizm on Amazon with FREE Shipping.
Interested in a touch screen calculator that is legal on College Board’s SAT exam? Then you’ve basically got a single choice, the HP Prime. This CAS calculator is the first ever touch screen calculator allowed on important standardized exams like the SAT, AP Calculus, and AP Statistics tests. Keep in mind, it won’t be allowed on the ACT, however. It offers a variety of powerful graphing features, including “pinch to zoom,” and while it’s not quite as intuitive as the others on this list, is far more user friendly than HP models of old. It will certainly appeal to HP’s hard core fan base.
Tech savvy students who want the “gee whiz” of the touch screen and are willing to put in the time to overcome the initial learning curve to take advantage of all the Prime has to offer.
Please click here to buy the HP Prime on Amazon with FREE shipping.
]]>One of the friends that I spoke to mentioned the PARCC’s “floor effect.” I think that’s a great name for it. When you tell fifth graders across that state that only 1 in 4 of them were able to pass your test, well, do you think that’s going to increase or decrease motivation the next time they have to take that test? I am all for raising the bar, but when the bar is raised so high that it becomes impossible for all but “gifted” and/or children from families with great resources to jump over that bar, you create a powerful disincentive for the rest to try.
The first time I got the scoop on the PARCC test, I suspected that it wouldn’t last long for a couple of reasons. The first was the aforementioned difficulty of problems that would give top math team students a run for their money. The second, though, was that it was coupled with a lack of incentive for students and parents. Why have the ACT and SAT been around for generations while numerous other standardized tests come and go? Those tests are high stakes, and high reward. Students who do well are rewarded with admission to the colleges of their choice and scholarships to help them attend those schools. We can argue about the merits of such a system, but you better believe that it incentivizes many students to show up and give a good effort to show what they are capable of. This, as opposed to snoozing (or opting out) through tests that are high stakes only for the school or the teachers. For these reasons, I didn’t spend more than about 5 minutes worrying about the PARCC test, and that hunch turned out to be correct.
I’ve been looking, but I’ve been unable to find any news reports that explain how Illinois got off the hook for its deal with PARCC. When I originally blogged about Illinois and PARCC a couple of years ago, I found state meetings online that seemed to indicate that Illinois would owe about a maximum payment of $160 million in 2018. Was there a simple optout clause? Did we negotiate our way to a reduced payment since we are only giving the test to elementary students, or is the state still on the hook for the full amount while additionally paying the College Board for the SAT? I’m not saying that would make it the wrong decision, but this state is in the middle of the worst budget crisis of any in the nation, and these are questions that the press should be asking and communicating to the public.
To be clear, I, and I think a majority of teachers, are not opposed to a wellwritten national test. The lack of unified standards across this country is a real problem. If you think its not, you and your child may be the beneficiary of a very stable career situation in a very good school district. However, I can tell you that as students came to my classroom from different districts across the state and the country, the disparity in quality and sequence of curriculum nationwide is huge. Getting an appropriate national exam with an appropriate level of challenge is designed to help with that problem since assessment drives instruction. There is nothing wrong with that when assessment is well designed.
To a small extent, the ACT and SAT have functioned this way for a long time. They are available nationally, students have skin in the game, and most students are able to achieve at least some level of success by scoring well enough to get into a college or university that works for them. While they may not be designed to a set of national standards, I an say first hand that they do have some impact on driving instruction. If you know a certain topic is going to be covered when a student is assessed on a test, you feel obligated to try to make sure to cover the material. I’m not suggesting they are the solution: the data they offer back to schools is not granular enough to make significant adjustments to instruction, they are only offered to high school students, the “incentive factor” is less for noncollege bound students, they are not designed to a set of national standards… I could go on. However, for all the complaints lodged about these tests, there are some reasons they have survived for so long. They do some things well.
Illinois’s choice to move to the SAT is an interesting one. As can be seen in my SAT scores by state map, Illinois has had the highest average SAT score among the states for years. Of course, Illinois also has the fewest students take the SAT as a percentage of their total population, as most Midwestern colleges historically preferred the ACT. Additionally, for many years, Illinois’s old state assessment, the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE) included the ACT, so every student had an ACT score ready to submit to the university of their choice and may not have felt it was worth their time and money to also take the SAT.
I always encouraged my students to take the SAT in addition to the ACT. Some students may perform better on one than the other. I was among that tiny percentage of Illinois students that took the SAT and scored well on it, and I’m convinced to this day that the slightly better result I got there compared to my ACT score resulted in some additional scholarships.
There is one thing I am definitely happy about for the teachers and students of Illinois as they transition to the SAT. If they choose to, they can now embrace CAS calculators, which are on the list of permitted calculators for the SAT, but banned by the ACT, which previously dominated Illinois. The College Board has no problem with them for tests like the SAT and AP Calculus. I think that’s a great thing for students because CAS calculators offer a unique learning and problem solving experience.
]]>Looking for a great deal on the Casio prizm? You will get the best price on a Casio Prizm on Amazon.
Since its release in early 2011, the Casio Prizm, or fxCG10/20, has been a calculator that has caught the eye some of the some students and teachers traditionally focused on the Texas Instruments lineup of graphing calculators. From the first announcement of the Prizm’s, Casio had promotional footage touting it as the first true competitor to the TINspire. I don’t think there’s any doubt that the Prizm did create ripples in Dallas since TI released their own color calculator, the TINspire CX (review) a few months later.
When it first came out, Casio generously provided me an fxCG10 to review for my readers. I’ve used it quite a bit over the last few of years, and I have been very impressed with the Prizm. (Full disclosure: Shortly after it was released, Casio hired me to do promotional videos for their Prizm website, which I was happy to do since I totally believe in this product).
That’s the question we were asking when the Prizm was released. The Casio Prizm was not the first color graphing calculator, but it was so much better than previous efforts (which only displayed a few colors), it might as well have been. The Prizm’s capabilities in terms of resolution, range of colors, and the ability to display photographs have changed the game, beating Texas Instruments into the color calculator market by a full 6 months. With the tremendous popularity of high resolution iPods and similar devices that have a similar cost to graphing calculators, you do have to wonder why it took so long for someone to try this. The display features over 65,000 colors, a 384 x 216 resolution, and back lighting. It’s not entirely surprising that Casio would be the first to take the plunge on a color grapher, as its always been innovative with graphing calculators. It was actually the first company to release a graphing calculator.
This is an allpurpose calculator, designed for students from beginning algebra through calculus and beyond. It includes apps that make it appropriate for use in statistics, financial math, geometry, and more. It’s easy to use operating system doesn’t require learning a lot of syntax, so a beginner will feel right at home. The Prizm does not have a CAS, or computer algebra system, so it doesn’t manipulate variables. That might be a let down for some calculus students, but the fact that the Prizm does not have a CAS makes it legal on almost any standardized test, including ACT, SAT, and AP, and with should be good with almost any high school or college math department that accepts graphing calculators.
I’m going to have to pick my favorites here because there are a lot of things I like about the fxCG10/20.
First off, it’s a gorgeous calculator. It looks good in the pictures online, but it’s even better in person. I’ve even had one of my students make the exact same comment I had when I first saw it: “It looks more like a cell phone than a calculator.” It’s sleek, it feels good in your hand, and even though it has a large display, it’s not heavy or bulky (a big advantage if you’re going to be carrying it in your backpack or purse at school). By printing the key labels under the plastic on the top part of the calculator, on top of the plastic in the middle and using raised keys at the bottom, the Prizm has a cool “stair step” effect to help segment the various functions of the calculator. Even when I have multiple calculators on my desk, I often finding myself reaching for the Prizm due to the “wow” factor.
But looks are not going to be the major factor for most people when buying a Prizm. Performance is more important. Casio was wise to take the best elements of their strong fx9860GII operating system and incorporate them into the Prizm. That means you get a number of preloaded apps, including Spreadsheets, Dynamic Graphing, Recursive functions, Conic Graphs, Financial math, Dynamic Geometry, and Unit Conversion, all of them displayed with a level of detail and refinement not possible on the fx9860GII’s lower res, black and white display. Additional apps can be uploaded to the calculator via the miniUSB connection that allows the Prizm to interface with computer and paves the way for future operating system updates that have become commonplace with graphing calculators.
This operating system is intuitive and easy to use. It’s also fantastic for students and teachers that don’t want to learn a lot of calculator syntax. Almost everything is done with symbols, just like you see in a textbook, what some have called “pretty print.” That means fractions look like fractions, exponents like exponents, and advanced functions for calculus like summations and integrals also appear just the way they do in the textbook. I also am glad that Casio included features like exact trigonometric values and simplification of radicals. These features are present on some Texas Instruments models but not all (the TINspire does not have them while the TINspire CAS does).
Casio has also been good about issuing updates operating systems for the Prizm. There have been several, the most recent of which was OS 2.02 in late 2015. Some of these updates have given the Prizm the ability to compute with vectors and added a period table of elements feature. A probability simulator that can simulate coin tosses, dice rolls, a spinner and more is also available. Operating system updates are always available free at the Casio education website. Your Prizm can be upgraded via the USB cable that comes with the calculator.
Of course, most of the hype surrounding Prizm’s has been about its color and “picture plot” abilities. They are very impressive. The color display abilities on the calculator are great. I would compare it to a good nonsmartphone. While you won’t confuse the Prizm’s display with an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy, the display is still so much better than older black and white calculator screens. If you’ve never used a color graphing calculator, you’ll be amazed how much it adds to the experience. The brightness level is just right to let you see the screen easily in a well lit or darkened room. It’s a little tougher outside on a sunny day, but I don’t know a lot of people who use their calculator outside.
When graphing, it’s great to have the ability to graph each function in a different color to easily distinguish which function is which. Charts and graphs come to life in color on the Prizm. Also, “Picture Plot” is an amazing feature, a first of its kind feature when Casio unveiled it. You can choose from a number of preloaded images Casio packages with the fxCG10/20, or you can load on your own image files. Once loaded, a set of coordinate axes is displayed right over your picture. The idea is you can do “curve fitting” or regressions to find an equation that matches you pictures (imagine trying to find the equation of a parabolic arch in a photograph of architecture). Then, you can guess and check possible equations that could fit until you find one that works. Or, even better, you can plot points right onto the photograph and use the Prizm’s regression features to find the equation for you.
The Prizm is not just good. It’s really, really good. I’ve rambled on for quite a while, and I’m just scratching the surface of what it can do. Much like the TINspire, the Prizm’s educational uses are impossible to sum up in a short review. In my opinion, this is the graphing calculator that best competes with the Texas Instruments lineup of popular calculators. It’s attractive, easy to use, powerful, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s one of the most affordable graphing calculators on the market, usually selling for under $100 on Amazon.
Looking for a great deal on the Casio prizm? You will get the best price on a Casio Prizm on Amazon. If you buy through this link, a small percentage will go to support my work at Tech Powered Math. Thanks for your support!
]]>Test Date  Registration Deadline  (Late Fee Required) 

September 10, 2016  August 5, 2016  August 619, 2016 
October 22, 2016  September 16, 2016  September 1730, 2016 
December 12, 2015  November 6, 2015  November 7–20, 2015 
February 11, 2017*  January 13, 2017  January 1420, 2017 
April 8, 2017  March 3, 2017  March 5–18, 2016 
June 10, 2017  May 5, 2017  May 619, 2017 
*This test date not available in New York State.
You may also want to check out my interactive map of ACT results.
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SAT Date 
RegisterBy Date 
Late Registration 
Oct 1, 2016  Sep 1, 2016  Sep 13 / Sep 20, 2016 
Nov 5, 2016  Oct 7, 2016  Oct 18 / Oct 25, 2016 
Dec 3, 2016  Nov 3, 2016  Nov 15 / Nov 22, 2016 
Jan 21, 2017  Dec 21, 2016  Jan 3 / Jan 10, 2017 
Mar 11, 2017 
Feb 10, 2017 
Feb 21 / Feb 28, 2017 
May 6, 2017 
Apr 7, 2017 
Apr 18 / Apr 25, 2016

Jun 4, 2016 
May 5, 2016 
May 20 / May 25, 2016 
You may also want to check out my interactive map of SAT results.
]]>Back when I was a PreCalculus teacher, one of the projects I used to assign during our conic sections unit was creating an art project out of equations, using circles, ellipses, lines, etc, and restricting their domains. It’s a fun way to reinforce how the various parameters for these equations influence the shape of their respective graphs. We did this on graphing paper, and told the students they could check a few things with their calculators if they wanted, but in recent years, the TINspire CX (review) operating system has come a long way. You could do the entire project right on the handheld if you wanted, and I’m demonstrating that in this post, with a series of plots creating Mickey Mouse.
Here’s how I created Mickey. Start with a series of circles for his face and ears. The easiest way to plot circles from inside a graph is to choose Menu > 3:Graph Entry/Edit > 3: Equation Templates, and from there, choose the template you are looking for. You’ll find many conic section templates included there.
Add some ellipses of the nose and eyes. Ellipses can be added following the same series of steps as circles.
Use some parabolas with restricted domains for the mouth. Restricted domains, and piecewise functions generally, can be constructed with the piecewise function template, which is one of many templates if you choose the button just left of the book button.
The rest of the face is a series of restricted domain circles, parabolas, and lines. This probably is not how Walt drew him originally, but I think it is close enough to get the idea.
I also removed the axes at the end to see more of Mickey’s beautiful mug (Menu > 2: View > 5: Hide/Show Axes). At each step, I’ve been hiding the equations associated with the graphs and changing the colors to black. This is easily accomplished by “longpressing” on them with the center of the touchpad and using the menu there.
Click here if you’d like to download this file for use on your TINspire. Would you like to see more TINspire art? If so, you can let me know by liking this post. If I get enough likes (and I can find the time), I’ll try to do a few more of these.
Like other STEM Behind… activites, you can STEM Behind Sports can be downloaded from the Texas Instruments website. It includes printable worksheets in PDF and Word format, so it’s easy to add or omit content as you see fit. There are activities at the middle school, high school Geometry and Algebra II level. I downloaded the Algebra II activity from the TI website and uploaded the appropriate files to my TI84 Plus CE. The activity focused on projectile motion using concepts like the separability of vertical and horizontal components of motion and simple parametric graphing. Students will especially enjoy the ability to “kick” their own field goals using the program TI has included with the activity.
I love the idea of STEM Behind Sports because it has the potential to reach a very audience than previous STEM Behind… activities. Any high school math teacher (and really, any high school teacher) will tell you that there is a subset of students that is sportobsessed but difficult to get interested in much else. STEM Behind Sports has the potential to reach those students with compelling mathematics problems.
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