“But you feel dirty …” – why HS kids have to buy TI Calculators

In the same way that publishers take advantage of students’ captivity when it comes to needing textbooks, Texas Instruments does the same.  Here’s a fantastic article on the subject that quotes a PA HS teacher who says “But you feel dirty, because you’re telling parents they need to buy a device, and I know I can teach without it.”

More from the article:

There’s no reason they should cost so much, and it’s shutting out students who can’t afford them. Just this past week, Amazon started selling Internet-capable Kindle tablets for $50 each. But a new TI-84 still runs a retail price of $100, and classrooms that use TI-Nspires (the newest addition to the TI line) are shelling out $140 a pop — about the price of a brand new Chromebook. All for a calculator that is older than the .MP3 file extension.”

Like for-profit textbooks, this is a battle that HS and college faculty need to fight.  There is no reason that TI should continue to cash in on our discipline like this, especially with an outdated technology for which they are overcharging.  As the article says:  use Desmos instead.  Or Geogebra, of course.



  1. Larissa · · Reply

    We’ve been wrestling with the same issue. The question is one of assessment – and how do you provide students access to these tools but limit their ability to cheat by looking up answers in the Internet

  2. Kim VanderSpek · · Reply


    I am a high school math teacher and have something to say. Yes, the price of the nSpire, or any graphing calculator, is offensive. YES, Desmos and Geogebra are better. Even the nSpire iPad app ($30, though the students have to have a $500+ iPad to start with) is better.

    The problem is that students can’t use Desmos, Geogebra, or any tablet app on SATs or AP Calc and Stats exams. They need to have a handheld, non-QWERTY (who makes up that rule?) for standardized testing. If they are taking an AP exam, it needs to be a graphing calculator. Casios are great, but still expensive, and they didn’t win the marketing game that TI started so long ago – the annual TTT conference is the greatest marketing event I’ve seen!

    I was in what I think was the first “Calculator Calculus” course at Ohio State in 1977. We had to sign up for this “experimental” course. I don’t remember the name of the calculator, but it was a TI and there were strips that you could put through the top with programs on them. I seem to remember one for Simpson’s Rule. Some people had the calculator that was one notch lower without the strip. They felt they were at a disadvantage. I moved on to Mechanical Engineering, but when I switched to teaching math in the 90’s, what did I do? Gravitated toward the calculators I knew from way back when and went with the TI-81 graphing calculator. All of my kids now have the nSpire CAS and I get our school to buy the nSpire app for them. (I work an at independent school)

    As far as forcing the TI, it just doesn’t work to have a mixture of calculators in the classroom – especially a mix of Casios and TI’s, but even a mix of 84’s and nSpires is terrible. MOre time is spent teaching the calculator than the subject. Students need a graphing calculator and they need to know how to use it. Blame the College Board? Blame Ohio State (were they the earliest on this? I don’t know)? Blame TI? I do know that, if the technology is used correctly, students can understand concepts much faster when using any of the graphing technologies. The teacher needs to be a few steps ahead of the students AND be willing to learn from the students.

    All that and I readily admit that I feel “dirty” asking parents to buy a specific brand of $140 calculator for their child. I feel like a TI employee without the benefits.

  3. Douglas A. Lapp · · Reply

    While I agree that the cost of some of these devices is getting out of hand, it is important to note that the level of utility interconnection is not found on any other device (I am speaking of the TI-Nspire CX CAS here). I also agree that devices such as the TI-84 (it’s really just a TI-83 in a newer package) are outdated. In fact, I would argue that the TI-84 is really a 25 year old device. This being said, the TI-Nspire has not been on the market for nearly as long (only about 10 years), but has met with some resistance. It seems that, in general, people are reluctant to change. This is the main reason that TI can still keep demanding the price they do for the TI-84 and people keep buying it. I have urged TI to stop making the TI-84. My reasoning is that people would be forced to move to something else and that device might likely be the TI-Nspire. The TI-Nspire is better than most other devices on the market since it integrates a CAS, dynamic geometry, dynamic statistics, spreadsheets, graphing utility, data collection device, and formative assessment tool (like Clicker on steroids) all in one device. While I like GeoGebra and Desmos, neither have a descent CAS on them. As someone who would not dream of teaching without CAS, this leaves little options that are truly affordable. Mathematica and Maple are more expensive and require a computer and in addition, do not offer dynamically linked representations that are helpful for learner to see mathematical connections. The TI-Nspire CAS iPad app is another alternative at $30, but it offers problems when it comes to assessment since students have access to the outside world on exams.

    The bottom line is that I have found few options that offer the functionality housed in the TI-Nspire CX CAS. I could download multiple apps for an iPad, but moving defined entities from one app to another is not possible. On the Nspire, I can define a function on a Calculator page and call it by name on a Graphs or Spreadsheet page. The information is shared across multiple pages within a common problem housed within a document. I really think that most people who knock a device like the Nspire have not tried it. It still seems to me to be the most affordable thing on the market at this time. As someone who conducts research on the teaching and learning of mathematics with technology, I have yet to find a device comparable to this. I would welcome suggestions of other options as I am always looking for new technologies.

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