Understanding your options
Advanced math students just starting a calculus class or above find themselves facing a decision with regards to their calculator. Should they buy a CAS (computer algebra system) enhanced graphing calculator?
If you don’t understand what a CAS enabled calculator is, you won’t be make an informed decision about whether or not to buy one. A standard graphing calculator can manipulate numbers. That means it can divide, multiply, add, and subtract as well as complete far more complicated tasks such as logarithms, trigonometry functions, radicals, etc. However, a non-CAS graphing calculator is not capable of performing operations on variables.
A CAS enabled graphing calculator, however, is capable of far more. It can manipulate variables such as x and y. This means it has the ability to factor polynomials, expand, solve equations, even solve calculus functions such as derivatives without numerical limits. This is a very powerful addition to your tool set if you are a student. In fact, it is so powerful that some teachers don’t allow them, and they have been banned from certain examinations like the SAT. They are allowed on two really big tests, however, the the SAT and the AP Calculus test. For many students, that’s enough for them to decide they want one.
If you decide to buy a CAS enabled graphing calculator, you will want to make sure you are an informed buyer. Of course, TI is the most prolific maker of calculators available today. As such, most students will decide to purchase a TI graphing calculator.
Texas Instruments makes several CAS graphing calculators you could think about. They include the TI-Voyage 200, the TI-89 Titanium, and the TI-Nspire CAS. Since the TI-Voyage has a QWERTY keyboard, it is banned from all standardized tests. So for most students, it’s a decision comparing the TI-Nspire CAS vs. TI-89 Titanium. The TI-89 Titanium is older and has been around for over 10 years, but still feels fairly new compared to most other calculators of that era. The TI-Nspire CAS is the the newest from Texas Instruments. It’s got high resolution display, a modern computer-like interface, and document creation.
Whatever decision you make, be sure you have done your research. These graphing calculators are over $100 and you don’t want to have regrets. Spend some times online checking out your options, and see what your friends are saying. You may also want to check out a TI-89 Titanium review or a TI-Nspire CAS review. With a little research, you’ll make a decision that you can feel good about not just in this year’s math class, but for your remaining math classes.
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