For a good example of stagnating technology, look no further than your local math classroom. While educational computers see replacement every couple of years, and the software on them even more regularly, many popular graphing calculator models have been around for over a decade with very few improvements. The basic functions these devices perform just can’t be improved with more processor power. But that doesn’t preclude making them simpler and easier to use, which Texas Instruments has attempted to do with its latest calculator, the TI-Nspire.
The fact that the TI-Nspire has no model number associated with it is itself a radical departure from all of TI’s previous efforts. While model numbers used to represent incremental increases in processing power and capability, the Nspire’s label is a cue that all of that has taken a backseat to accessibility.
This is most apparent in the calculator’s appearance. The old black cases of yesteryear have been replaced by a colorful blue and white design. Arrays of rectangular buttons crowded with second and third functions on one key have been replaced by an innovative new diamond-like design that places letters and other less-used functions in diagonal nooks between primary keys. In short, it’s a lot less intimidating.
The TI-Nspire and swappable keypad
Of course, a lot of flashy plastic is good for nothing if students are greeted by the same tired operating system when they turn the calculators on, but Texas Instruments has gone through and updated that as well. An array of new functions is designed to make the same capabilities easier for students to wrap their minds around.
For instance, a new split-screen feature allows an equation to be viewed in its ordinary algebraic form, on a graph, in spreadsheet form, or with notes – simultaneously on the same screen. Students can also poke and prod at graphs they’ve made, then view the equations they represent to see how visual changes play out on paper.
While these new ways to do things offer students more options, they could also potentially pose a problem in the calculator’s transition stage, before it’s widely adopted in classrooms. Following along with a class can be tough when you’re working with a totally different interface. Fortunately, TI anticipated this, and gave the Nspire a unique swappable keypad that makes it reverse compatible with the TI-83 Plus, TI-84 Plus and TI-84 Plus Silver Edition Calculators. The entire keypad actually snaps out, and can be replaced with a new pad that resembles that of the TI-84. It even comes with the pre-installed software from a TI-84.
To go along with the new features of the Nspire, TI also introduced a new computer software suite to accompany it. The Nspire software will, like older versions, allow students to transfer data back and forth between computer and calculator, but also offers a full-function Nspire calculator on the computer. This makes it possible for students to do homework on their computers, then transfer it to a calculator and bring it to class, or vice versa.
Texas Instruments will begin selling the Nspire directly from its Web site in October at a price “slightly higher” than the TI-84 Plus Silver Edition, which currently runs for $129.99 USD. A variety of bundles will be offered with different combinations of spare keypads, storage devices, and computer software. Educators and early adopters may want to pick them up immediately, but students should probably wait for recommendations from a math teacher before investing.