Are graphical calculators pointless?
I love mathematics and I also love gadgets so you’d think that I’d be overjoyed to learn that there are a couple of new graphical calculators on the block. You’d be wrong!
Late last year, Casio released the Prizm colour graphical calculator. It costs $130 and its spec is pitiful:
- 216*384 pixel display with 65,536 colours
- 16Mb memory
- The CPU is a SuperH 3 running at 58Mhz (according to this site)
More recently, Texas Instruments countered with its color offering, the TI-NSpire CX CAS. This one costs $162 (source) and its specs are also a bit on the weak side but quite a bit higher than the Casio.
- 320*240 pixels with 65,536 colours
- 100Mb memory
- CPU? I have no idea. Can anyone help?
If you are into retro-computing then those specs might appeal to you but they leave me cold. They are slow with limited memory and the ‘high-resolution’ display is no such thing. For $100 dollars more than the NSpire CX CAS I could buy a netbook and fill it with cutting edge mathematical software such as Octave, Scilab, SAGE and so on. I could also use it for web browsing,email and a thousand other things.
I (and many students) also have mobile phones with hardware that leave these calculators in the dust. Combined with software such as Spacetime or online services such as Wolfram Alpha, a mobile phone is infinitely more capable than these top of the line graphical calculators.
They also only ever seem to be used in schools and colleges. I spend a lot of time working with engineers, scientists and mathematicians and I hardly ever see a calculator such as the Casio Prizm or TI NSpire on their desks. They tend to have simple calculators for everyday use and will turn to a computer for anything more complicated such as plotting a graph or solving equations.
One argument I hear for using these calculators is ‘They are limited enough to use in exams.‘ Sounds sensible but then I get to thinking ‘Why are we teaching a generation of students to use crippled technology?‘ Why not go the whole hog and ban ALL technology in exams? Alternatively, supply locked down computers for exams that limit the software used by students. Surely we need experts in useful technology, not crippled technology?
So, I don’t get it. Why do so many people advocate the use of these calculators? They seem pointless! Am I missing something? Comments welcomed.
Update 1: I’ve been slashdotted! Check out the slashdot article for more comments.
Update 2: My favourite web-comic, xkcd, covered this subject a while ago.
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