Specific calculator requirements for 8th grade

This is a borderline pit with a serious question attached; I’ll keep the pit shallow but will accept a mod move if it seems appropriate.

Our twins are starting public school 8th grade on an average to upper track. There is an absolute, you-must, no-exceptions requirement that they have a TI-84 graphing calculator. (At about $100 a pop.)

Now, we went through this with an older daughter in her sophomore year of a very elite private school, one that ran a curriculum at least a year or two advanced on the norms. She was on an advanced math track and probably wore out the TI-83 or whatever it was that was required.

I can’t imagine what justification there is for not just requiring a very advanced graphing calculator for what is basically Algebra I, but requiring the most costly model among a wide range of equivalents (Casio makes one in the $30 range.) I don’t think calculators have any place in basic algebra and trig, when your goal is to master the theory and basics, not grind through solving equations as an end product. I doubt they are going to need more than maybe 8-9 functions except for a week of showing how kewl it is to graph equations.

Any thoughts? Is there ANY need for a calculator at the 8th-9th, algebra/geom/trig 1 level? ANY need for an advanced, programmable, graphing calculator? ANY need for a TI-84 in place of any cheaper equivalent? Or is this more a case of “tech is good” and teaching them which buttons to press is easier than teaching real theory, and limiting it to a single model so that neither teacher nor student has to think about which buttons are actually doing the work?

I plan to talk to the math teachers and take it to the (very accessible) BOE if I don’t get some damned good answers that counter my understanding. All thoughts and input welcome.

Teachers are taught with the TI brand in mind and textbooks are written specifically for TI calculators. That’s all. Finding various functions on a new calculator can be difficult and annoying, especially if the kid’s lost the instruction booklet and the teacher is trying to not waste any more time than they have to learning the ins and outs of more calculators than absolutely necessary.

Also, yeah, I spent a hundred bucks on a fancy at the time TI-83 which seemed steep for 9th grade geometry but I used it all throughout high school and into college and I used a lot of its functionality. From an amortized point of view, it wasn’t that bad a buy.

Everybody needs the same device with the same keys and the same answers.

That said, I got by just fine with The Wrong Calculator, and in fact showed off by doing a lot of work on a slide rule.

Well, you don’t “need” a calculator for the most part for anything you do in high school. However, TI calculators are a standard requirement for many high school math courses because the lessons are often written with them in mind. Either way, don’t buy a new one. Go to CL for a used one. You can usually find them for around $40.

a $100 calculator for HS geometry and algebra? Why not just google the answers and save the money toward the next version of WOW.

And they do learn to get the most out of a graphing calculator. I’ve had a love affair with calculators since 1987 but my kid, after a year of algebra, shows me how to do stuff I never learned.

All of which confirms my impression: it’s more about standardization for the teacher’s convenience and to match a rote-learning curriculum than anything else.

No question a TI-84 is an asset for high school math, especially if they go past the basic three. But for the amortization to pay off, they have to not lose it and keep it working for several difficult years.

Besides questioning the appropriateness of “push this button” teaching in place of, say, being taught the actual theory and operations as I was, the idea that only a top-shelf calculator can do the job - and not, say, a $30 TI with all but the most elaborate graphing capabilities - is short sighted nonsense.

But thanks for answers; I thought I might have missed some aspect of why 8th graders can’t be taught to factor an equation without “tech” to help.

True story: when I brought my birthday-present calculator to school my sophomore year (5 functions, blue fluorescent display, size of a Stephen King paperback) it drew a crowd of 50 people. Not only was I not allowed to use it in algebra/geom, but the teacher sniffed at the need for help with kitchen-math operations at that level.

I recently had the misfortune of taking a “math” course for high school teachers. The course required a specific model of TI calculator, and many lessons consisted of “To solve this problem, you push this button, then this button, and then this other button”. The buttons we were told to push weren’t even the simplest way to solve the problems using those calculators.

Your kids will certainly learn a great deal more mathematics if they ignore or actively reject the “required calculator”. Unfortunately, they may also get a lower grade because of this.

aNewLeaf, if I ever find myself teaching math, I’m seriously considering making use of slide rules mandatory. Not because slide rules themselves are a practical tool to know how to use in this day and age, but because using them (and understanding why they work) provides a solid grounding to many other mathematical concepts (especially properties of logs, of course, but also things like justified precision).

Obligatory xkcd link.

I agree that “standardization” must be the reason they require that particular model. TI’s are easily the most popular graphing calculators in schools today, for the vicious-circle reason that they’re the most popular graphing calculators in schools today. I can see why a teacher might not want to have to explain individually to 30 different students how their particular calculator works, especially for models that the teacher him/herself has no experience with.

As for the accusation that it’s “to match a rote-learning curriculum,” well, graphing calculators are tools that, ideally, could be use to enhance exploration and understanding (“Okay, play around with changing the equation in different ways and see what happens to the graph. Do you notice any patterns?”). In reality, though, I share your suspicion that they’re just teaching them how to mindlessly push buttons.

The Catholic high school where we sent our 3 kids now requires an IPad from day one. In exchange they got rid of almost all the paper books thus reducing the weigh of the book bags quite a bit.

No special calculator was required for my son in Algebra (7th), Algerbra 2 (8th) or Geometry (9th). The calculator he has we bought at Target for $25 or so. He’ll be taking Trig/Pre-Calc this year for 10th grade, so we’ll see if he needs anything special this year.

OP, don’t be that parent. Just. Don’t. Buy your kid the same shit every other kid is going to be using. There are times to choose to make a stand on principle. This is not one of them.

I love living in Canada. Graphing calculators are provided to the students in class when they need them (and can be signed out for homework).

FWIW I had to get the very same calculator (well, TI 85) when I first started algebra in the 90s. So it’s been something public schools have been doing for, like, 20 years.

Yeah, it’s all no-win except for lazy teachers and TI, who is probably making a fortune on a line of calculators long since amortized and reduced to lowest-cost components.

My mom flat-out refused to get me the “required” TI-whatever for my 12th grade calculus class (in 2002). I and one other poor kid had the same Casio knockoff. The multi-colored graphs were cool, I guess. And because I had to work harder to figure out how to translate TI’s functions to a crappy off-brand calculator, it arguably made me better at the subject in the end. But mostly, it was fucking embarrassing and a waste of the teacher’s (and my) time because my mom was too cheap to invest in the proper tool for the trade.

This is like complaining that every kid has to get the same textbook, for crying out loud. It’d be another thing altogether if the school were demanding something wholly unnecessary, like requiring every student dress in designer clothes to prevent being bullied. But this is an investment in their academic livelihood. For a lot of people, math is difficult enough without making it harder. Don’t try to cheapskate your way out of it, they will despise you for it. They **will **be singled out as either poor kids or stupid kids if you do not comply. Your kids are going to **need **TIs for high school and college anyway. And if you have college-bound twins, you’re going to hemorrhage a lot more than a couple hundred bucks after all is said and done. Why *not *get one now?

And if you truly cannot afford the calculators due to financial hardship, you can almost certainly ask the school for assistance in obtaining them.

If you really think requiring standardizing tools for advanced mathematics is laziness, then you have NO idea how education works. Standardization removes barriers to learning.

Ask the school for one. Lie and say you’re broke, even if you aren’t.

Unless your kid is going to be a math or engineering wizard (and you should already know by now if they are) then there is no need for the stupid thing other than to make math class easier on the teacher.

I hate math, I was never good at it. My mom bought me the damn thing anyway, because it was on the list, and I NEVER used it. We WERE broke, and could have used that money for a lot of other actually necessary things.

I wasn’t good enough at algebra to figure out how it would be of use (the teacher ended up tutoring me every single day after school just to get me through my homework) so I never used it there.

In geometry, it was like heaven - here was finally a math I GOT! In fact, I got it so well I didn’t need or want to use the damn calculator. I had more fun and got better answers when I did the work myself with graph paper and compasses and rulers. Trying to use the calculator just made things more complicated and irritating, so I never used it there either.

I knew myself well enough to not take any higher math than that. I never took any other math in high school, and I took “personal finance” for my math requirement in my BA. That stupid unnecessary EXPENSIVE thing has sat in various drawers since then, totally wasted, totally unused.

Ask the school for one.

ETA - Seriously, the “removing barriers to learning” comment literally made me snort my sweet tea. That shit’s funny. The teacher barely has time to get the material across, let alone actually teach what you’re doing with the calculator. See above comments about how problem solving is reduced to “push that button, then that other one.” If that’s removing barriers to learning, I weep for the nation.

I sort of agree. When I create (third grade) class supply lists, I create them knowing that not everyone can afford the materials for the class, so I limit what I ask for, and I make sure I can have some extra supplies on hand. When the teacher requires a $100 for a single class, that’s going to have the effect of discouraging poor kids from taking the class: in some families, $100 is a lot of money to ask for for a single kid’s single class. I’m not sure how the teacher justifies that requirement, or if he or she has even thought of its effects.

Sorry, but you are wrong here. That is a classic, absolutely standard school supply and has been for decades. If your children continue to study math, it will be used time and time again.

The reasons why teachers like it is that there is an enormous amount of high-quality materials out there that are already developed and tested, and having all the kids on the same calculator allows them to focus on using the calculator as a tool for learning, rather than having to use valuable class time to teach 20 kids the ins and outs of 20 different calculator. It’s no different than wanting all the kids to use the same book so that you can just say “turn to page 25” and know what to expect.

Pop some popcorn folks, this is a long one and you’ll want some sustenance to get through it.

“Lazy” middle school/high school math teacher checking in. I’ve taught just about every ms/hs math course there is from Pre-Algebra to AP Calculus over the better part of a decade now. So you might say that I have some insight when it comes to these things.

To the OP: Please take the time to find out just what the calculator will be used for before you go ranting to some higher up at your children’s school about why you think they’re a waste of money. Fighting ignorance and all.

I require my students in Algebra 2 on up to purchase one of the TI 83 or 84 models. They’re basically interchangeable at that level. The 84 is a bit newer, sleeker, and has some extra memory and apps. But otherwise they’re close enough that you should be able to get away with either model. I have plenty of school-issued back-ups though too so the kids can sign them out if they can’t buy one of their own.

These calculators really are neat tools. But they’re just that, tools. They should enhance what my students learn, not replace my teaching. I don’t even let my students touch the calculators until around November. Even then they are not allowed to use them for basic computations and the like. The best calculator for that is their brain.

Here’s a small sampling of how we use them: to explore transforming functions, data analysis and best fit lines for messy real-world data, probability simulations (there’s a pretty cool app for that which came around long before today’s smart phone apps), creating and manipulating figures in geometry, evaluating advanced functions, calculating limits, derivatives, and integrals of functions that either cannot be worked out by hand or would be a real pain to do on something like the timed AP Calc Exam. That doesn’t even touch on all the cool graphing applications – it is a graphing calculator after all. Advanced analysis of graphs can be done in a snap on these things. You can use it to quickly solve all sorts of physics problems (remember those pesky quadratic functions with their parabolic graphs?). Not to mention how much faster it is to work out advanced problems on the calculator than it is to do the work by hand. They’re great for that on the SATs which is timed.

All of my students first master how to do all work by hand – from basic calculations to advanced operations with matrices, and yes, everything to do with graphing. But then I also show them how to do the same thing on the calculator. It’s far from a cop out or taking the lazy way. It’s teaching them how to use the technology of today. How many of us would rather look up a phone number in a phone book than the internet? Or screw in a hundred screws by hand rather than use a screw driver? Yes, it is important to know how to do those things by hand but it is also important to know how to utilize the proper tools to get the job done more efficiently and more accurately. I can take a problem that might take 20 minutes or more to do by hand and have them work it out on the calculator in 30 seconds or less.

The efficiency piece of things becomes more important as students progress into higher levels of math. Advanced Calculus problems are made a little easier by allowing the calculator to handle some of the basic computational stuff or the function analysis leaving you with only the advanced calculus work. Also, by the time a student reaches Calculus, they will inevitably run into problems that simply have to be worked out on the calculator. In fact, the AP Calc exam requires that they be able to use the calculator to perform four key functions. The earlier a student is introduced to a graphing calculator the more comfortable they’ll be with it when it really matters.

With all that said I could make valid arguments for and against using a TI 83/4 in Algebra 1. The math involved in Algebra 1 can typically all be done by hand without any trouble at all. But having one that early a) starts getting them comfortable with it to prepare for more advanced courses and b) is an excellent supplement to what they’ll also do by hand. There are applications out there that are just plain cool. In math, we can use all the cool points we can get with kids.

As for why we recommend TIs over say a Casio, the reasons are numerous. My post is already way longer than I initially intended so I’ll try to keep this brief. As Rachellogram stated, standardization can remove barriers to learning. Different brands or even just models of calculators can be so vastly different from one another that it becomes a nightmare to use them. Lessons are carefully designed with one model in mind. Even with one model a typical lesson has me running around the room frantically troubleshooting issues that pop up. Add in different models and you also have to add in different directions and different troubleshooting methods. You could wind up trying to teach 2, 3, or more lessons at once depending on how many models are in the room. Not all calculators perform the functions I need them to. Should I toss out a perfectly good lesson because one brand doesn’t allow for a certain function?

It’s kind of like trying to use different editions of a textbook. They all have the same basic goals in mind, but for today’s lesson Jimmy needs to open to page 56 in the 3rd edition, while Clarissa opens to page 60 in the 4th. Judy’s edition has made so many edits to this chapter that what she’s reading has little to do with the rest of the class. Poor Johnny edition removed the chapter altogether. He can share with Jimmy for now but what about homework? Why would any good teacher set things up like that in the first place? Removing as much potential for utter chaos as possible if it’s only getting in the way of learning is just good teaching.

Wow that was a long one! Sorry, I get rather riled up when referred to as lazy when most teachers I know are really far from it.

TL/DR version: Calculators are good when used to supplement and not replace good teaching. Having the same calculators allows the instruction to take center stage and not be upstaged by putting out continuous fires that result from all the troubleshooting.