By Tech Powered Dad | February 27, 2012
The TI-Nspire CX is an amazing but still underused tool for math educators.
If you didn’t realize it, this past Saturday marked the one year anniversary of the public announcement of the TI-Nspire CX, Texas Instruments’ full color graphing calculator. For those of you just learning about it, you might enjoy reading my TI-Nspire CX review, or even the story where I broke the announcement of the TI-Nspire CX right here on Tech Powered Math.
One year later, I’ve been thinking about where things stand with the TI-Nspire CX, and the TI-Nspire line in general, and I find that I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I love where Texas Instruments is going with the Nspire line. Since OS 3.0, the Nspire is a fully mature platform. Any complaints I still have about the operating system are minor. All of the best features of other Texas Instruments calculators have been incorporated into the Nspire by now, and it has many capabilities that they will never have.
The majority of the students at my school are on Nspires because we have pushed them to stay current on the technology, and I see what a huge advantage it is. Our students are really able to use their calculators to understand math and solve problems, and they spend very little time trying to figure out how to make the calculator do what they want it do do. Their TI-84 classmates do well too, but I can see frustration when they discover something that can be done quickly on the Nspire but requires more button presses or can’t be done at all on the TI-84. I applaud TI for continuing to stretch the Nspire platform, and I’m excited to see how it will continue to evolve.
On the other hand, I also attended a math competition on Saturday with the math team I coach. We had a great time defending our regional title, our fifth in a row. Still, as I looked around the competition, I saw the same thing I usually see at math competitions: student after student from other schools using TI-84’s at best and four function calculators at worst, and even some students without a calculator.
Whenever I see that, there is a small part of me that looks at the huge competitive advantage it gives my team to be trained on TI-Nspire CAS’s while others kids are using the $.99 calculator at the Walmart checkout because, hey, I like to win as much as the next guy. But a much bigger part of me gets a very uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach, a feeling that that those kids are being cheated out of a very valuable learning opportunity, and I don’t understand why.
Sometimes at these things, I’ll even hear a kid bragging to their friends that a calculator wouldn’t even help them because “I do math without a calculator.” I have to hold my tongue because I know it’s not true, in large part because their scores bear it out. But here’s the part that nobody talks about: I’m actually quite confident that my students learn so much from the work they do on their calculators that if I took them away from them for the competition, they’d still do better that if they had trained exclusively without the calculators. We do just as well in the events that don’t allow calculators, if not a little better.
Obviously, there is plenty of math to be taught and learned that doesn’t involve a graphing calculator at all. However, the students at a math team competition are supposed to be the best and brightest students. They are supposed to be coached by top teachers, the kind of teachers who understand the power of technology in a math context and how it can be used to understand and solve problems.
The fact of that matter is that they probably are the best, which is why it is disappointing to me that I don’t see enough people–students or teachers–pushing the math technology envelope. If we won’t even do it for our best students, there’s certainly no reason to think we’ll do it for the underachieving students who need it even more. At a minimum, the brightest kids will eat up the kinds of problem solving experiences they can have with the TI-Nspire platform (I know because my students do), but there need to be more teachers, administrators, and parents pushing them. It certainly doesn’t have to be the TI-Nspire. The Casio Prizm, Wolfram Alpha, Desmos, and too many great technologies to name are out there, but even in today’s technology age they are underused, not by every school, but by many schools. Unfortunately, they are often underused in the schools and with the students that would most benefit from them.
So Happy Birthday, TI-Nspire CX! Your first year was a great one for my students, and I know by many students across the country. I just hope as a one-year-old you have a growth spurt that finds you into the hands of students that need you the most. As you continue to grow and mature, you have the potential to help a lot of kids that could really use it.