A little over a week ago, the Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics held their annual state championship finals on the University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign campus. For the first time since I left teaching midyear during the 201415 school year, I was able to attend, having missed last year for a family engagement. What a joy to be back on the campus of my alma mater, the place where I first learned that satisfaction could be found in solving challenging mathematical problems, once again watching young people take their first steps into that same world of ideas, competing with their friends, making lifelong memories. There’s definitely a wide range of memories that hit me when I breathe that familiar air at Altgeld Hall, UIUC’s math building, from my days as an undergrad, studying with friends for exams to my days as a graduate student teaching calculus to my years as a math team coach, anxiously waiting in the hall for organizers to post results.
Though I’m not coaching a team any more, I spent nearly the entire day at the competition. I had the opportunity to reconnect with old colleagues, chat with other coaches, talk to students, and even solve a few math problems. While most of the events aren’t on display for the public, one of the highlights of the day was watching the juniorsenior 2person championship round. This is a very challenging competition, one that most teams put their best competitors on. While the preliminary round isn’t public, the finals are. I had the pleasure of watching a couple of former students compete in the finals, a round that only the top 4 teams from the prelims advance to.
As for the team competition, in the division I coached for many years, 2A, longtime powerhouse University of Chicago Lab School had moved up to 3AA (the odd class numbering system is 1A, 2A, 3AA, 4AA, where the number refers to the school size and the number of A’s refers to the difficulty of the tests taken). “UCLab” had won 8 of the 9 previous state titles, the lone blemish coming in 2012 when my own Morton High School students briefly dethroned them. Of course, their move to 3AA meant a new champion would be crowned this year. A familiar face took their place, MahometSeymour, another downstate, public school which had been in the top 5 for many years, and did so in dominating fashion, winning by over 100 points in a competition where the winning score is typically around 800 points. MahometSeymour joins Morton and Herrin as only the only nonChicagoland schools to win the 2A title since ICTM went to its current competition format in 2001.
While the competition is always intense, the downtime at the state finals is just as sweet. Speaking with a student about their college plans, bumping into an alum who is now attending the University of Illinois, singing the ICTM State Math Team Contest Song, watching students throw a football around the quad, reading the silly math slogans on the various team shirts, they all bring back so many fond memories. I can honestly say that I have no regrets about leaving teaching for the corporate world, but there are a few things I miss about my former profession. At the top of that list is coaching the math team.
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I’ve spent the last couple of months working through course three in the University of Washington’s Machine Learning Specialization on Coursera. Course two was regression (review); the topic of the third course is classification. As has been the case with previous courses, this specialization continues to be taught by Carlos Guestrin and Emily Fox. For the classification course, Dr. Guestrin took the lead.
The time requirements did increase a bit with this third course, not excessively, but it felt like I was working an extra hour or so a week on it. Unfortunately for me, that came at a bad time personally as home repairs, a broken down car, and illness conspired together to cause me to get a couple of weeks behind in a MOOC that I had every intention of completing. I worked my way back and completed the class, but not before I learned that in this situation Coursera will do everything in its power to convince you to move your progress (completed assignments) to a future class including repeated emails and warning messages when you log into the web site. I appreciate this option, but the number of emails that Coursera sent seemed excessive.
It seems that Guestrin and Fox have made some minor but appreciated adjustments based on student feedback from earlier courses. In most cases the assessments will show you the wrong answer you selected, reducing the need to write down all answers ahead of time if you want to improve your quiz score on subsequent attempts. In some situations, feedback is even offered on your incorrect answer. After a huge gap between previous courses, there is another long gap between this course and the next course, but this time the start date has already been announced (June 15), which makes it easier to plan additional continuing education opportunities between now and then.
Of course, what is of greatest interest is what material is covered in the class, and what is omitted. Overall, I was satisfied with the list of topics covered in this class, but there were a few notable omissions. Guestrin emphasized logistic regression through the first couple of weeks of the course, both regularized and unregularized. There were assignments that covered both how to work through a data science problem involving logistic regression as well as implement logistic regression from scratch. Nonparametric methods were also covered, such as decision trees and boosting. In terms of boosting, Adaboost was the specific method covered. Guestrin also gave students the opportunity to learn about stochastic gradient descent and online learning. Throughout the course, a variety of general data science techniques appropriate to classification were also covered such as overfitting, imputation and precision/recall.
There were some techniques that were, perhaps surprisingly, not covered in this class. Fellow students on the forums complained that support vector machines were not a part of the curriculum. I was also surprised that random forests got only a passing mention. It is understandable that not every topic can be covered in a 6week curriculum, but these felt like significant omissions. They are techniques I’m familiar with, but I’ve come away from every technique covered by Fox and Guestrin with a much deeper understanding than I started with. Consequently, I would have loved to hear their take on these machine learning options.
Three courses into the specialization, I feel like I have a pretty good sense of what I like with this specialization, and what I’m getting less value from. The instructional videos from Fox and Guestrin continue to be some of the best I’ve seen in an online course and are worth watching even if you don’t have time to do the assignments. I also find the quizzes that focus on concepts are a perfect marriage to those videos, doing an excellent job reinforcing the concepts from the instruction. The application assignments are also very good, as they offer bitesize versions of the data science problems I regularly encounter and cause me to reexamine my thinking in my work. I’m getting less value from the assignments that require me to implement algorithms from scratch. With these problems, I find that there are too many times I find myself dropped into the middle of an implementation that is 90% complete; I’m able to complete the remaining 10% successfully, but I find that it doesn’t really “soak in” for me. I’m sure there are other students that find this approach works for them better than it does for me.
That’s a minor complaint, and this continues to be an easy specialization to recommend. I’ve dabbled in a couple of other Coursera courses lately, and they were a good reminder that while Coursera has many excellent classes, they are not universally of excellent quality. When you find a specialization that works for you as well as one is working for me, it is worth the time, money, and effort to see it through to the end.
]]>“For us, it’s about providing the educational tools and resources to help students build a strong foundation in math and science, setting them up for success in the classroom, college, and beyond,” said Peter Balyta, Ph.D., president of TI Education Technology.
Having attended the Illinois math team state championships over the weekend, I can tell you that the TI84 Plus family continues to be a hit with some of the best students here in Illinois. The 84 Plus CE was the most commonly used calculator throughout the competition, and as Texas Instruments continues to add stylish new forms to powerful function, that’s not a trend that’s likely to slow any time soon.
Texas Instruments is promising to have these new colors stocked in time for back to school shopping. In recent years, new TI releases targeting back to school have been available fairly early in the summer. If there’s sufficient interest, I can add the limited edition Golden Ratio TI84 Plus CE to my price monitoring Amazon Twitter feed for TPM readers once it becomes available. Just shoot me a tweet if you are interested.
]]>One Christmas gift that has gone over in a big way with her is Bedtime Math: A Fun Excuse to Stay Up Late. I recommended this book in a recent math gifts post, but now that I’ve had the chance to spend some time seeing a child interact with the problems in the book, I feel like it deserves its own review.
This volume of Bedtime Math, currently one of three, features a common format throughout. Open up to any random page and on the left side, you’ll find a combination of vignette, story, or fun fact about a topic of interest to kids (spaceflight, etc). On the right side, you’ll find a brief math problem related to the topic at hand. There are three levels of problems depending on your child’s age (“Wee Ones”, “Little Kids”, “Big Kids”).
For my daughter, there is still plenty of challenge in the Wee Ones problems. The fact is that I am thrilled to see her introduced to addition and subtraction in context that she finds positive and engaging. There is still plenty of finger counting going on as she works these problems, but I can see her starting to make important connections about how numbers work (“Daddy, it says to 10, but I’m out of fingers, so you hold up 5 fingers and I’ll hold up 5”).
In Bedtime Math: A Fun Excuse to Stay Up Late, author Laura Overdeck has created a book that works as both a fantastic story book, and a terrific math book. The pictures and vignettes are entertaining, for sure, but it is the variety in the math problems that make it work for the educator in me. There is such a temptation when working with kids to oversimplify problems and make the repetitive. Overdeck does none of that. The Wee Ones problems, which I know the best, include not just 2 but 3 number addition and subtraction. They occasionally require a sum larger than 10, obviously important if you are solving by counting on fingers. There’s even a couple of problems where one of the numbers required to solve is not given, but must be inferred from the wording of the problem. I love that.
I don’t know a higher complement I can pay Bedtime Math: A Fun Excuse to Stay Up Late that to say it is my daughter’s favorite book. She has requested it every night for 3 months straight, and I don’t see that trend letting up for a while. A couple of weeks ago, she pulled it off the shelf, and I said, “Great! Let’s read a few stories from your book.” She replied, “No, Daddy. It’s a math book. Let’s do a few math problems from my book.” It was a good reminder that at her young age, she has none of the mathematical baggage I often encountered with my high school students in a classroom setting. For parents of young children, I’d encourage you to start building positive associations with math early. Bedtime Math is a great was to start building those positive math vibes.
Click here to get Bedtime Math: A Fun Excuse to Stay up Late on Amazon. If you purchase through this link, a small percentage of your purchase will support my work at Tech Powered Math. Thanks for your support!
]]>Please click here to buy your TI84 Plus on eBay. You’ll get a great price, and a small percentage of your purchase will support my work at Tech Powered Math. Thanks for your support!
Long ago and far away (in the year 2010), I did a review of the TI84 Plus Silver Edition graphing calculator. Things have changed quite a bit during that time for Texas Instruments calculators in general and for the TI84 Plus platform in specific. Most importantly, TI released a major new upgrade to the TI84 Plus family, the TI84 Plus CE, a full color display edition of the calculator designed to bring the TI84 Plus into the next decade. However, the black and white version of the TI84 Plus remains hugely popular, and is often the top selling graphing calculator on Amazon. That means it’s time to reexamine the TI84 Plus from a 2016 perspective and see how it holds up.
I’ve had a ton of experience working with students on the TI84 Plus, from the classroom to math team to ACT test prep. Although it’s no longer TI’s cutting edge calculator–that label goes to the TINspire CX (review)–it’s still a strong calculator. I can’t really understate the stranglehold this line of calculators has had on the math education community. There’s no doubt that part of the reason that schools were initially slow to the adopt the Nspire is because the TI84 has just been so wildly popular and schools have invested in TI84 software, teacher training, and classroom sets of the calculators.
No doubt, the TI84 plus is designed with the high school student in mind. Additionally, many, many college students use a TI84 as their calculator of choice. It’s accepted on almost every standardized test, including the ACT, which won’t accept calculators with computer algebra systems like the TI89 Titanium or TINspire CX CAS.
In the spring of 2010, Texas Instruments came out with 2.53 MP, an operating system that finally gave the TI84 “mathprint.” This means that fractions look like fractions, exponents look like exponents, and far more. A lot of new templates that make advanced algebra and calculus a lot easier were added too like nonbase 10 logs, summations, integrals, etc. It also allowed users to scroll up to previous calculations to edit them and enabled a series of “pop up” windows accessible via the F1F4 keys. This is a big update and one that was sorely needed. The TI84 plus was getting passed up by rival calculators from Casio and HP before this update. I was really excited by this update and almost felt like my students were getting a new calculator for free. About a year later, 2.55 MP was issued, that continued to improve usability. Sadly, the TI83 Plus didn’t get either update, something you can read more about in my TI83 Plus review. Should anyone try to tell you that the TI83 Plus and the TI84 Plus are identical calculators, just smile politely and walk away. We haven’t seen any updates to the black and white TI84 Plus operating system since 2011. Will we see any updates issued in the years to come? I wouldn’t guess so, but I’ve learned to never say never with Texas Instruments as they can sometimes have something up their sleeves when you least expect it.
That’s an easy one to answer. The TI84 Plus has nearly 100% acceptance in the educational community, or at least it did at one point. More schools are embracing or requiring the TINspire CX all the time, so you should check with your school, but in the 30 or so years of graphing calculators in schools, there has never been a calculator more accepted by teachers, schools, and standardized tests than the TI84 plus. Just about every math teacher knows how to use it and teach with it. If your teacher doesn’t, you’ll have no problem finding books or videos (including my own) to help you along the way. Many high school textbooks are even written with TI84 directions right in the text.
But here’s the rub. The newer color, TI84 Plus CE that was recently released is awesome, a much bigger improvement on the black and white screen TI84 Plus models than I would have ever expected. The button layout is identical, and the menus are 99% similar, so if you’re coming from an older model, you’ll have no problem learning how to use the color TI84 Plus CE. However, the TI84+C is has a much higher resolution screen, making it easier to read and making it possible for Texas Instruments programmers to better organize more information on the screen at one time. The display is backlit and color, making that information easier to interpret. It’s also much lighter, at least in part due to its rechargeable battery.
When comparing screen captures side by side, it really is amazing to see how much clearer and easier to read the newer color model is. Just to show you how dramatic that difference is, check out a screen capture of each calculator finding a zero of the same function side by side:
I think that picture should pretty much speak for itself. The CE is also quite a bit slimmer, offers the ability to graph on photos, and has a rechargeable battery that can stay fully charged all summer in sleep mode. If you’re in the market to buy a TI84 Plus CE, I’d really encourage you to look at two pages:
The TI84 Plus isn’t the cutting edge technology it once was, but it’s still a good calculator. If you are buying new, I would definitely recommend the TI84 Plus CE on Amazon. It is worth the extra few dollars. However, as is often the case when Texas Instruments releases a new model, the old model’s value starts to fall on eBay. If money is tight and you are patient, you should be able to find a used TI84 Plus on eBay for half the cost of a new one. That’s not a bad strategy at all. Texas Instruments built the TI84 Plus like a tank, so as long as you buy from a reputable seller, you should be able to upgrade the operating system and have a graphing calculator that’ll meet your needs for years to come.
Please click here to buy your TI84 Plus on eBay. You’ll get a great price, and a small percentage of your purchase will support my work at Tech Powered Math. Thanks for your support!
]]>See the prices on Amazon right now!
TINspire CX  TINspire CX CAS  TI84 Plus CE
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If you’d like to see big price drops on Amazon graphing calculators play out in real time, follow @PriceMonitored. This is a Twitter feed I’ve created that Tweets out all the significant price drops in graphing calculators prices on Amazon with a link to them so you can get there quickly to make your purchase before the price goes back up. Every week is different, but sometimes the graphs will show price drops that only last for an hour, so acting quickly is important.

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TI84 Plus  TI84Plus C  TI89 Titanium
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]]>Tomorrow, Texas Instruments will add to mISSion imaginaTIon, their partnership with NASA, when they launch a new activity called “Fuel for the Fire.” TI was nice enough to give me an early preview of the Fuel for the Fire, including student and teacher handouts and the .tns file for the Nspire that makes up the bulk of the activity.
This is a really rich activity that will force students to think, and offers some interesting simulations. Along the way, students have to land a lunar module (it took me upwards of 20 attempts to do so without crashing, but I’m old and like a student, neglected to read the directions at first), fill fuel tanks with rocket fuel, and control fuel consumption during a space flight (you’ll see your ship go careening out of orbit if you make a mistake).
There are quite a few topics covered here, all in the interesting “real world” context of space flight. Among them are constant rate of change (i.e. slope), volume formulas, linear functions, and related rates with a linear function. My suggestion is when the Fuel for the Fire goes live, go ahead and download it for yourself, regardless of whether you are a math or a science teacher, as it could work well in either context. I’ve been told that teachers and TI fans can expect to find Fuel for the Fire on the mISSion imaginaTIon sometime tomorrow afternoon.
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The feature I’m enjoying the most, however, is the fact that Texas Instruments has made the ability to plot relations more complete. Essentially, the user has been given a lot more freedom to choose in the form of relations they can graph, including x and y variables on the same side (or both sides) or the equation. This extends to inequalities, as you can see in the screen shot that I’ve included in this blog post. This is a really great update that will give teachers better flexibility in what they can graph with their students.
]]>The most popular graphing calculator model line ever, the TI84 Plus, has continued to evolve into 2016. Barely one year after the TI84 Plus C brought color to the 84 family, Texas Instruments rebooted the color line with the all new TI84 Plus CE. The new 84 is new hardware with a new look, but much in common with its predecessor. So how does this new model stack up? Let’s take a look.
Actually, a lot has stayed exactly the same between the TI84 Plus CE and older 84 models, specifically the 84 C. If you have owned an older TI84 or need to get help from a tutor, sibling, or teacher that is used to working with the TI84 family, they will be able to jump right in on this model with no problems. The arrangement of physical buttons is the same, the menu system is virtually identical, and the you get the same great color screen that the TI84 Plus C had.
Truthfully, the biggest selling point for the TI84 Plus CE is for long time users to pick up a familiar calculator and jump right in with a familiar interface, but getting to do so with 2015 hardware.
The biggest change you’re going to notice with this model is the size. Officially, Texas Instruments says it is 30% lighter and slimmer than previous generations of the TI84 Plus. However, I can tell you that the difference when you hold it in your hand feels even more significant. I’ve been calling it the “TI84 Air.” The CE is the right size and weight to stuff into a book bag or purse without feeling like you are being burdened down by it. I’m a long time user of the TINspire family as well, and it felt to me like the TI84 Plus CE was even lighter than my TINspire CX. To be sure, I threw it on my kitchen scale. Sure enough, it weighed in at 7.0 oz. My TINspire CX was 10.0 oz.
While the physical location of buttons is identical to that of older TI84 models, the buttons themselves are smaller and rectangles, rather than rounded. This looks more like the TINspire buttons and gives the CE buttons a modern look.
The CE has its own new operating system. While it is nearly identical to previous TI84 models, an important difference is that you can’t transfer apps from older models to a CE. To remedy this, Texas Instruments is issuing new versions of all its most popular apps via their website. In fact, my CE review unit shipped with many popular apps like Finance, Conics, PlySmlt2, and Transfrm. Looking at the official TI app website for the TI84 Plus CE, the CE already has a couple of extra apps that the TI84 Plus C hasn’t received.
Comparing the TI84 Plus C to the TI84 Plus CE, you’ll be hard pressed to find many changes. I explored various menus, apps, etc. and noticed only a few extremely minor differences. For example, when exploring the “MODE” menu, a couple of options have changed. Here you can select what language localization you want if you are not a native English speaker, as opposed to going through apps. Additionally, while the 84 Plus C gives 3 options for the format of answers: “AUTO”, “DEC” (decimal), and “FRACAPPROX”, the last option is eliminated for the CE. I’m not sure what the rationale is here, but it means you cannot select a mode that automatically converts all answer from decimals back to fractions with the CE.
Additionally, there are a few visual tweaks with the PlySmlt2 app that I like. Rather than enter coefficients in a matrix for a system or list below the equation for a polynomial, the app now allows students to enter the coefficients right next to the variables. I think this will really help them understand what the app is doing. PlySmlt2 has always been one of my favorite apps for the TI84 family, and this is a small but thoughtful touch that shows TI is still thinking about how students use these apps.
The TI84 Plus CE has a “deep sleep” mode that allows it to hibernate while preserving battery if it’s not used for several days at a time. With regular use, it can run a month on a single charge, but in deep sleep mode, it can maintain nearly a full charge over summer break. I can tell you from personal experience that it really can maintain a charge for this length of time.
Additionally, Texas Instruments took a page out of another update they recently made to the TINspire line of calculators. Older TINspire CX calculators and the TI84 Plus C all had batteries that had a wired connection. The new Nspire CX and the TI84 Plus CE does not use this wiring, but instead just uses the sort of contacts you’d find in a cell phone with a removable battery. As a person who has had to remove the battery from literally hundreds of student Nspire CX’s, let me tell you that TI84 Plus CE users will appreciate this new battery design if they ever find they need to replace their battery. Replacing the old wired battery was a bit harrowing for the uninitiated, as it often felt like you might damage the calculator or battery during the replacement process.
Texas Instruments has definitely picked up on the fact that color sells and even has a website designed to help you pick your ideal TI84 Plus CE color. The CE comes in red, pink, plum, black, gray, and 2 shades of blue. The preview model Texas Instruments provided me with is gray, which looks a lot like the older TI84 Plus Silver Edition.
Both of the blue models look particularly enticing to me, but I can see the appeal to any one of these models. Don’t be surprised if some of these colors are in short supply if you look for yours during back to school shopping season.
While the TI84 Plus CE is a substantial upgrade to the 84 Plus C, there are a couple of minor issues I didn’t care for. The first was the changed location of the USB port, from top to side. I know from experience that students sometimes use their calculators while charging them. It seems like it would be easier to hold the CE and continue working with it if the USB port was still on top.
The second was a bit of “light leak” that I experienced around the corners of the display. I’ve never experienced this on any of the color TI models before including the 84 Plus C or the Nspire CX. I asked TI about this. They had an engineering team investigate it and reported back that they were confident it was because my review unit was a preproduction model. It’s a fairly minor irritation and very uncharacteristic of a TI product, but I feel obligated to point it out.
Since the TI84 Plus CE was released in 2015, a new version of the operating system, version 5.1 was released. As of 2016, the most uptodate version is 5.1.5, released January 2016. This was a minor operating system update in terms of features, adding a leading zero for decimal numbers. However, it includes bug fixes and performance improvement, and new operating system releases signal that Texas Instruments is committed to continuing to support this calculator going forward, which is important if you intend to make this your graphing calculator for 4 years of high school or college.
If you’ve made it this far in the article, I’ll assume you are a buyer that is serious about the TI84 family rather than the TINspire (review) family, which is the other serious contender from TI and still my favorite, despite the fact that I’m seriously impressed with the new CE. With Texas Instruments discontinuing the TI84 Plus Silver Edition and the TI84 Plus C Silver Edition, buyers will soon have just two choices in the TI84 family:
Lets briefly compare the TI84 Plus CE vs. TI84 Plus. Prices fluctuate, but typically there is a $20$25 difference between these models. There is no question that I’d pay that little bit extra to get the TI84 Plus CE as the CE makes the gap between color and black & white models even wider than it was with the TI84 Plus C.
If you can afford it, pick up a TI84 Plus CE on Amazon and don’t look back. It’s the best TI84 yet in a family of calculators that is widely known, understood, and loved by students and teachers alike and worth the extra few bucks. If you really can’t afford the upgrade, an alternative is getting a used TI84 Plus on eBay (they are built like tanks and last a really long time).
Click here to get the TI84 Plus CE with FREE shipping on Amazon. If you purchase through this link, a small percentage of your purchase will support my work at Tech Powered Math. Thanks for your support!
]]>Please buy your TINspire CX on Amazon for the best price and FREE shipping. If you buy through this link, a small percentage of your purchase will help support my work at Tech Powered Math. Thanks for your support.
Over my many years teaching in the high school math classroom, I spent more time working with the TINspire than any other calculator, and it has become my favorite graphing calculator platform. I like to keep the my TINspire CX review fresh, and since the last time I wrote this review, a new version of the operating system was released. So it seems only logical that a 2016 update of my review is also in order. This post is both a TINspire CX review and TINspire CX CAS review, although you’ll see while reading it, the two models have more in common than they do differences.
First, a seemingly minor but potentially important change for calculator buyer occurred last year when TINspire OS 4.0 was released for the TINspire CX and TINspire CX CAS. For the first time ever, the older “grayscale” (noncolor screen) models did not receive the operating system upgrade, meaning they continue to be stuck at OS 3.9. While 4.0 was mostly full of incremental upgrades (more on that later), if you are planning on buying your Nspire for up to 4 years of high school or college, I would hesitate to pick up an older model that might not continue to receive more upgrades like the “CX” model. Over that length of time, there could be enough changes to the operating system that the color models menu systems and features might start to look noticeably different from the greyscale models. I can tell you that 4 years ago, these calculators did look significantly different. I point this out because it is very tempting to look on Amazon and see that the TINspire nonCX models are still being sold there are and significantly cheaper. Proceed if you will, but buyer beware.
That caveat issued, I will say that the TINspire continues to be the most complete platform for students and teachers of mathematics at the high school and early undergraduate level. Several years ago, we saw the release of the TINspire iPad app (review). I was very impressed with this app and do recommend it even at close to $30. However, you should keep in mind that it’s simply not a replacement for a TINspire CX handheld since it’s not allowed on standardized tests like the SAT or ACT.
I will say that even before the updates of the last couple of years, I had felt that from an educational standpoint, the TINspire operating system was superior to any other TI product (such as the TI84 or TI89). I like the fact that it uses the type of interface that kids who have grown up in the internet era are familiar with. That means it has drop down menus, the ability to open multiple tabs like a browser, a drag and drop interface, and a file and folder system that’s just like using a computer. Graphing calculations have been much simpler, not requiring much button pressing beyond the trace feature because the Nspire automatically detects max and min values and intercepts while using trace. It’s also easy to type in your calculations using mathematical symbols so that they appear just like a student would see them in a book or write them in their homework, so there’s pretty much no code to learn. What really sets the Nspire apart has always been its dynamic properties. On one screen, you could have a graph, an equation, and a table of values. Grab the graph and drag it into a different shape, and all three adjust simultaneously.
Ever since the OS 3.2 update a few years back, Texas Instruments gave teachers and students the features that they have been asking for. There are some really awesome new features for the TINspire CX. The biggest upgrades with OS 3.2 were graphing features. Owners of any uptodate Nspire now have the ability to graphing conic sections and any equation written in “x=” form. This is something Texas Instruments users have wanted for years. You can see this and more below in the TINspire CX video review I recently put together.
The more recent operating system updates have been more modest in nature, but have definitely been noticeable and welcomed by regular users. For example, the most recent version of the OS, 2015’s 4.0 upgrade, primarily made incremental upgrades to graphing and geometry capabilities such as the ability to customize the 3D environment to show 3D graphs in either orthographic projection or perspective view and the ability to have geometric shapes have their points automatically labeled and their angles forced to integer values (see screen capture, right).
In addition to software upgrades, Texas Instruments has made some minor hardware upgrades as well. Since 2014, the latest TINspire CX model has had an improved battery design. Previously, if you were having battery issues with your TINspire CX, the battery was wired into the Nspire, and there was always a “hold your breath” moment of disconnecting that wire. The new battery is smaller and connected by a compression contacts like a cell phone battery. It pops in and out very easily. This isn’t an issue that comes up very often since the CX has a rechargeable battery, but I’m still glad to see it addressed.
Texas Instruments continues to be extremely active in teaching teachers how to teach with their TINspire platform as well. “Get Nspired” is more than a catch phrase. They hold webinars demonstrating engaging ways to use the Nspire CX that are of extremely high quality. Additionally, the last couple of years, they’ve started a series of initiatives STEM Behind Hollywood, STEM Behind Health, mISSion imaginaTIon, partnerships with powerful groups like the entertainment industry and NASA to show students how mathematics and science can be applied in exciting fields, all of course, with your TINspire graphing calculator.
So that’s what’s happening with the TINspire platform lately, but what made the TINspire CX such a hit in the first place? The TINspire CX will always be known as Texas Instruments’ first color graphing calculator, and an improved design came with it. When first released, it was a much thinner, lighter design that we’ve seen from TI in the past–more like the thickness of a standard scientific calculator than previous graphing calculators. The odd “wings” of previous TINspire models are gone. The screen is gorgeous. The resolution is good, the colors are bright, and the display is easy to read. You won’t mistake it for an iPhone, but it’s better than any display I’ve ever seen on a graphing calculator, including the Casio Prizm (review), despite my love for the Prizm. As I type this, the backlighting is bright enough to read easily from my deck in the shade, although not in direct sunlight. However, I don’t know anyone who would uses their graphing calculator in direct sunlight.
I’ve tried the image features on both the TINspire CX models and the TINspire graycale. You have the capability to load any JPG, BMP, or PNG file onto the device and graph functions right on top. It certainly works on both color and grayscale models; I’ve even posted pictures of the grayscale pictures on the Nspire already. However, I think the screen captures are a little deceiving. While the pictures look great on the computer screen in both color and grayscale, in some cases they’re actually kind of hard to make out the the Nspire grayscale. No worries if you are on a TINspire CX; images look great on the handheld.
I can also tell you that the buttons are “snappier” and more responsive than previous TINspire models. Back when I first asked him about this, Dale Philbrick, Texas Instruments Marketing Segment Manager for Mathematics, told me that this was accomplished by a combination of hardware and software upgrades.
Along with this change, there are no more interchangeable keypads. That means you can’t use the TINspire CX as a TI84 like older Nspire models. When Philbrick and I talked about this back at the time of the Nspire CX release, he said, “We felt like it was time for people to start using the Nspire as an Nspire.” No argument here. In the early Nspire days, I used to be frustrated with the occasional student who refuses to give up their Nspire’s TI84 keypad but then makes mistakes on problems that are so much easier with the Nspire, such as secant, cosecant, and cotangent (which can’t be found directly on the TI84). With each new TINspire OS, the TI84 just feels more and more outdated.
Judging based on polls I’ve run in the past on Tech Powered Math, I’ve found that there’s actually more interest among TPM readers in the TINspire CX CAS than there is in the TINspire CX. If you’re unaware of what a CAS calculator is, it is a Computer Algebra System calculator. This means the calculator has the ability to do algebraic manipulations on variables, such as x + x = 2x. This is a great thing if you plan to take the SAT or AP Calculus, where this type of calculator is encouraged, but not so great if you are taking the ACT, where it is banned.
The TINspire CX and TINspire CX CAS have most of their hardware and functions in common. They’re so similar, it’d be easy to mistake one for the other, even after playing with it for a bit. However, the CAS version has a number of menus and submenus tucked away that you won’t find in the nonCAS version. In the past, the questions I’ve received about the Nspire CAS tend to be from TI89 users wary of the the advanced calculus capabilities of the Nspire CAS. Since OS 3.0, differential equations and a host of advanced calculus features have been included for all TINspire models.
While I’ve taken math courses all the way to a graduate level, my teaching experience only goes through second semester college calculus, so I can really only speak to classes at that level and below. In those classes, I’d much prefer the TINspire CX CAS to a TI89 Titanium. Even though the TI89 Titanium (review) is an excellent calculator, the Nspire CX CAS is easier to work with on conics, has a much nicer UI, is easier for graphing, and has 3D graphing for a couple years now, a drawback that was a problem when the series was first launched, but no more.
If you find that you need a little help learning how to use your TINspire, I recently started a line of books designed to help students and teachers learn how to use the calculator. TINspire Tutorials Volume 1 is the TINspire for Beginners, that helps you navigate all of the basic features of the calculator. TINspire Tutorials Volume 2 is Using CAS Features Like a Champion, and will get CAS users started with those features only found on the CAS. Both books are currently available in Kindle format for the iPad, iPhone, Android, PC, and Mac.
At around $130, the TINspire CX and TINspire CX CAS not the cheapest graphing calculators available today, but they are well worth the price. When Texas Instruments debuted the TINspire line a few years ago, it had a few warts, but with each year, they’ve continued to make massive improvements to both the hardware and software. Even at the beginning, I was impressed with how much faster kids caught on to features like fractions, graphing, and tables on the TINspire than they did on the TI84. From remedial Algebra through AP Calculus and my 2012 Illinois state championship math team, the TINspire CX is my top choice for my students.
With the Nspire series, my students spent less time learning calculator code and more time learning math. Since the release of the TINspire CX and continued OS upgrades, this is a fully mature platform. No longer can Texas Instruments users cling to the good old days of the TI84 and TI89 and feel like they honestly have the best the market has to offer. The future has arrived. The TINspire CX is TI’s platform of the next decade.
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