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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A calculator that promotes understanding

I try not to plug specific products. I especially try not to plug products that I haven’t even seen yet. But... the new calculator from Texax Instruments is clearly not just another calculator. From its specs, the TI-Nspire looks like a math teacher’s dream.

My first impression was that they had stolen our idea! If you compare the description from TI with the Weston Math Department’s multiple-representation worksheet, you see a remarkable resemblance. Then again, maybe it’s not so remarkable. Consider what TI says on its webpage:
New TI-Nspire technology was developed hand-in-hand with educators worldwide... TI-Nspire technology empowers students to learn across different visual representations of a problem, developing a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts. When students can see the math in different ways, they are able to broaden their critical thinking skills and discover meaningful real-world connections.
Yes, it sounds just like something my Weston colleagues and I would write, but I guess that’s not a coincidence if the device truly was developed “hand-in-hand with educators worldwide.”

So, what’s so exciting? Well, here’s why it sounds so great: Apparently (if we believe the ads) the TI-Nspire provides multiple representations on a single screen — such as a dynamic geometric image, a table, an equation, and a graph — and changing one representation makes corresponding changes in the others. If this capability really works as advertised, it should indeed help promote deeper understanding. I’m looking forward to exploring the implications of this tool for our curriculum. It might be the catalyst for significant changes in teaching and learning.

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