Calculators – Back to School Choices

gallery-1466087182-middle-school-and-high-school-school-suppliesHard to believe that summer is already over – for some students anyway.  Depends of course where you live – here in PA students don’t go back until the end of August, in VA, it’s after Labor Day, and in CA, my sisters kids are already on their 4th day of the new school year.

As a teacher and as a parent, I know the beginning of the school year involves a lot of money and making choices – new clothes, bookbags, pens, pencils, papers, notebooks, calculators.  Those long “school supply lists” seemed to get longer every year.  In part because school funding has decreased, so teachers have less to work with and count on the parents to help support classroom needs. Though, as most of you know, teachers spend a lot of their own personal money on their classrooms and students too.  Something to remember when you question the box of tissues, the dry-erase markers, and other seemingly ‘unnecessary for my child’ supplies.

These days, some of the needed supplies come with a hefty price-tag – laptops and tablets for example. Depends again on what the school/school district supplies and if your child’s school even uses such technology.  BYOD (bring your own device) schools expect you to provide these, and those that do provide the devices often require a hefty ‘rental’ fee – for obvious reasons such as damage, repairs, upkeep, etc.  But – these more expensive items are still not the norm in most schools – again, because of funding, lack of internet, lack of training on how to use these devices appropriately, etc. In my research, only about 25% of schools are using laptops/tablets on a daily basis, with most students only getting access to these a few times a month (shared laptop/tablet carts or a computer lab).

One technology tool that is still prevalent and requested, more so in middle and high school, is the calculator. Schools use to supply these, and some still do, but the cost to maintain and replace broken or lost calculators is difficult when school funding is so drastically reduced. Calculators are often added to the school supply list, like in my sisters case, where she was asked to buy two graphing calculators for her two high school students. Sometimes they request a specific brand – for no other reason than its what the teacher/school is familiar with, not considering price at all. But price matters, especially when functionality is the same and often times better. Scientific calculators have similar price tags, no matter the brand, but graphing calculators have a huge range of pricing and options – color, non-color…what to choose? Color graphing calculators in particular can be expensive – $150 for the ‘familiar’ model. But you don’t always need to get the most expensive, ‘familiar’, requested model just because it’s on the list.  Get the one that’s going to support your child’s math learning.

IMG_3406Obviously I am going to promote Casio calculators here, since I am a IMG_3407Brand Ambassador for them.  But, as a math teacher for 25 years, I am also promoting them because they are truly a better calculator and more affordable, so why wouldn’t you make that choice? If your child needs to purchase a calculator, then just go into a store, like Walmart or Target or online – and compare. In the Scientific models, pricing is similar, so how do you choose? Well- you go with functionality and Casio is easier to use and, as in the case of the fx-300Es vs the TI-30xIIs, the Casio makes fractions look like actual fractions, lets you see tables when entering data – just a few of the things it does better. Same in elementary calculators – the fx-55plus is far superior than any TI calculator and fractions look like fractions! (i.e Natural display).

Graphing calculators are trickier – there are color options, non-color options. In all cases, Casio is much more affordable than TI. Do you need a color graphing calculator is probably the real question. For more advanced mathematics courses, the color graphing calculator is the better choice for several reasons, for example they tend to have more functionality and color displays allow for easy comparison when looking at several functions on one graph. The Casio Prizm is significantly more affordable than either of TI’s color options, and as we showed at NCTM, a previous blog, and in many comparison videos, the Prizm outperforms TI.

2015-10-29_14-24-37In most instances, particularly middle school, color is not needed, in which case you can get a Casio Graphing calculator like the 9750GII or the 9860GII for 1/3 to 1/2 the price of a T. Even without color, both of these calculators outperform and are easier to use than the TI models, including color (see videos again!) And, if you only want to purchase one graphing calculator for your child to last all through high school, both of these will get them through the highest levels of math. I guess my thoughts are why pay more for a name when you can get a better calculator at a significantly more affordable price? And if the teachers or schools say it must be a specific model, that’s only because it’s what they know – it’s NOT because it’s a better product. And in this day and age, where we are all watching our money and have to make choices, I say go with the more affordable and efficient functioning option.

As you go shopping for your back to school supplies, just remember you have choices. So choose what works best for your budget, your child, and don’t forget to pick up some extra tissues and dry-erase markers for the classroom – they are definitely needed!!

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Functionality & Affordability Matter

Another post in my series comparing Casio calculators to TI:

I just came from a meeting at Casio America’s headquarters where we discussed ways to help parents, teachers and students get their hands on Casio calculators. In thinking about the message that Casio is trying to instill in it’s customers – that of “Functionality and Affordability”, I thought perhaps I would clarify what that message means.

Affordability – well, obviously that has to do with cost. Basically, if you go into a store such as Walmart, to buy your child calculator, you see a wide assortment of calculators with varying prices. The prices are remarkably different as you progress to graphing calculators, and TI calculators clearly top the list in expense. It can be confusing if you don’t really know anything about the calculators and are just comparing prices – the obvious choice for our cost-conscious consumers is to go with the less expensive choice, but what often happens is schools/teachers name a specific calculator type or brand, which more often than not is the most expensive one.  The question then becomes what’s the difference? Parents probably ask themselves “Will my student be at a disadvantage if we choose to save money and go with the more affordable option?”  Here’s where “Functionality” comes into play.

Functionality has to do with ease-of-use, processing speed, menu options, memory, etc.  When a student has to use a calculator to do mathematics, how hard is it to figure out the steps, to find the menus, etc. Here is where Casio definitely has the advantage over TI, because Casio calculators don’t require students to remember complicated processes or where menus and operations/calculations are – rather the options appear right on the screen as students are working, not hidden in an app or a button. The processing speed is also significantly faster. So, the more affordable calculators function more quickly and are more intuitive and easy to use and remember compared to the more expensive options. And are allowed on all standardized tests, just like the more expensive options.

As an example, here’s a quick comparison of Casio’s 9750GII graphing calculator, at $47, compared to the top-selling TI graphing calculator, the TI-84, at $102, or the TI-84 +, at $122 (these are all Walmart Prices). You will see that the Casio is menu driven, performs quicker and graphs prettier, than the more expensive TI-84+ option. This is a fairly simple problem – graph a quadratic function and find its root (s). The TI has much more complicated functionality, requiring students to find the right menu, create ‘boundaries’ around the root, and make a guess before getting the coordinates of the root. Then repeat the process if there is more than one root.  Also, notice that on the Casio, you can toggle back and forth between the roots (if there is more than one), it shows the function on the screen, along with the root (s) and word “root” so you know what you are looking at.

So – to answer the question: NO your student will NOT be at a disadvantage if you choose the more affordable option because you are getting better functionality. Seems like an advantage to me.