September 27, 2007 From its origins as a flat stone covered with sand in ancient Babylonian times through to the emergence of the first electronic versions in the mid 20th Century, the calculator has long been an invaluable tool in any number of human endeavors. Like all early computers the first electronic calculators were large, heavy and definitely far from portable, but that all changed in 1967 when Texas Instruments (TI) applied for a patent on the world’s first electronic handheld calculator and brought the device into its own as a widespread learning tool for students. The original handheld calculator prototype performed four functions (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division), had 12 bytes of memory, ran on batteries and weighed nearly three pounds. Forty years on TI has released what it sees as the next step in the continuing evolution of the student calculator - TI-Nspire - a product designed to provide up to four representations of a problem at one time in order to engender a deeper understanding of mathematical principles and - believe or not - help students get excited about math.
The TI-Nspire products are squarely aimed at the student market and are designed offer the same user experience in a handheld and corresponding computer software program while presenting math in multiple ways. Students are able to see and make connections among up to four representations of a problem at one time, on one screen, including graphical, algebraic, numeric, geometric or written formats. The benefits of this approach are based on research that shows each student learns math in different ways, whether it’s a graph, table, equation or written form. This is based on the idea that students are able learn concepts more readily and with deeper understanding when they see a problem represented in different ways and are able to choose and evaluate various problem-solving strategies. TI-Nspire technology allows students to change values and observe the results in real time, which dramatically reduces the time needed to see how various concepts are linked.
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TI conducted extensive research and product testing and sought teacher input when developing the TI-Nspire products. The company added computer-like functionality and features that it believes will help students broaden their critical thinking skills and make meaningful connections between the different ways math is represented. This new functionality includes dynamically-linked representations of a single problem on one screen. “Dynamic linking” means that changes to one representation of a problem are automatically reflected in other representations, which allows students to understand relationships among math concepts. For example, students can investigate the relationships among rise, run and slope using a graph, word problem and spreadsheet.
Another key feature is a grab-and-move graph function, whereby a graph’s appearance can be manipulated by grabbing a line and moving it to see the effect of changes in real time to help students see mathematical relationships and patterns. TI have also implemented word processing and file storage features similar to a computer. Students can create, edit and save documents, review and revise their work, pick up where they left off in a previous class and easily transfer documents between their handheld and computer, extending the learning process beyond the classroom.
Those students worried they’ll be left high and dry come exam time can breathe a sigh of relief with the TI-Nspire handheld allowed on all of the important college entrance exams, including the PSAT, SAT, ACT and AP math tests. The corresponding computer software allows for additional flexibility so that students and teachers can use PCs, handhelds, or both, at home and in class with the same user experience. TI-Nspire products are being used in more than 150 pilot classrooms worldwide with TI claiming qualitative results showing that students are more engaged and excited about math and want to continue using the TI-Nspire technology. The TI-Nspire products are currently available through educational product dealers and will also be available in major retail stores for consumers to purchase for back-to-school 2008 and will cost approximately the same as TI’s advanced graphing products.
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