New Year – New Start with Hand-held Calculators

Technology is out there in classrooms, but what is available varies widely. We hear so much about 1:1 initiatives, tablets, laptops, and other mobile devices being used in math classes, but, the reality is, most math classrooms access to technology is often limited to the teachers computer/whiteboard, vs. every student having direct access to a computer/tablet. I’ve been trying to research/find hard data, which is difficult and often misleading. There is quite a bit of inequity in technology access as well, whether in devices themselves or in internet access, even within the same school districts and states. Here are some links to research/data I found, though it doesn’t really give a clear picture of what is really out there and being used by teachers and students. Obviously this is just a small sample.

From my experiences around the country, and I have traveled and worked in schools and classrooms in every state over the past 12 years, access to technology in mathematics classrooms is NOT as prevalent as the statistics indicate, and is incredibly inequitable. It’s not ‘computers for every student’ as so many articles and reports imply. It’s getting better – sure. But from my own anecdotal observations, which includes my 2-year doctoral research with several schools and teachers, what I see most are classrooms with one computer (i.e. the teachers), which are more often than not used for teaching/demonstration, occasional use of students on laptops/computers (a couple times a month), whether that be in computer labs or more often, mobile laptop/tablet carts, and more often than not, hand-held calculators as the daily, go-to technology for students. And technology ‘use’ for instructional purposes with students is more as a calculating tool or a game-playing and/or review for practicing math concepts, not for truly learning WITH technology. Again – this is based on my hundreds of experiences working in schools with math teachers around the country, but I think it’s pretty indicative of the reality of what is really available and being used. So, while the rumor out there is hand-held calculators (which can include mobile phones, though those are still not allowed in most schools) are going away, the reality is, based on my experiences, hand-held calculators are still the most-used technology tool in math classrooms and still predominantly used on many standardized tests that have not converted to online platforms. A huge reason is obviously cost – schools can provide all students with access to graphing calculators, scientific calculators and/or four-function calculators at a fraction of the cost of laptops/tablets. And, as we all know, education funding seems to decrease every year, so cost is a factor, which includes replacement costs. Calculators are also portable, don’t require internet access, and students/parents can buy their own for home use inexpensively as well.

With that said, I am going to focus my posts in January for the New Year on calculators and how you can take a new look at a technology that is readily available for students and that can enhance mathematics. This post, I am going to focus on a couple graphing calculators – i.e. the CG50 and the 9750GII to show how even a small device such as these can offer ways for students to explore multiple representations, collect data, analyze information and make decisions using mathematics. These two calculators are very similar, with the CG50 being in color and having 3D, but for the most part, you can do the same things on both. For this reason, I am going to use both to demonstrate different parts of the same activity to show that you can use either and accomplish the same discoveries with students.

The activity I am focusing on is one called Life Expectancy, available for free as part of the free lessons/resources from Casio Education. You can access Life Expectancy and others in the Fostering Series Sampler (this specific activity starts on page 13). This lesson involves looking at different representations of data to find key information about the data, analyze trends, and compare the representations to make decisions about which are the most appropriate and why (so box plots, histograms, pie-graphs, scatter-plots, and xy-lines). I have provided two videos, one with the 9750GII that shows how to enter data into the statistics menu and make a histogram, and box-plot from the same data; one with the CG50 that shows how to make a scatter plot of the same data, with a linear regression. All the steps for each are in the activity, so the videos are just a visual of what you can do. The steps are the same for both calculators, so whether you have the 9750GII or the CG50, either video will show you how to create the statistical plots (and, bonus, if you have the 9860, it works for that graphing calculator too!!) What I hope you get out of this is that with the use of calculators, you can provide visuals and multiple representations that allow students to analyze the math, make connections, and more importantly learn with the technology instead of just using technology as a calculation device to get a simple solution.


Histograms and Box-Plots on 9750GII (but same steps for CG50 and 9860):


Scatter Plot and Linear Regression on CG50 (but same steps for 9750GII and 9860):