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.