To confuse the Texas Instruments TI-Nspire handheld with the company’s TI-84 or any other graphing calculator is to completely miss the point. Much more than a calculator, the TI-Nspire is an in-your-hand computer for learning mathematics from pre-algebra to calculus including geometry. You can even add written notes.
In a nutshell, its key feature is the ability to display multiple representations of a mathematical expression and to link up to four of these together on one screen for comparison. This, as any teacher of maths knows, helps students to visualise concepts in different ways, strengthens their critical thinking skills and assists them in making cognitive connections.
The review unit came with a range of support materials including the 68-page “Inspiring Maths in the Classroom” report from the University of Chichester, a 40-page “First Steps with TI-Nspire”, an A1 poster, all handbooks and ‘quick start’ guides and, strangely for a 21st Century learning/teaching device, an OHP transparency picture of the TI-Nspire. Perhaps digital teaching devices haven’t quite made it into schools across the pond. However, the package offers excellent supporting resources to get even the most sceptical or technophobic maths teacher firmly on track.
The TI-Nspire provides five applications:
- Calculator - supporting algebraic and numeric representations
- Graphs and geometry - for graphical and geometric visuals
- Lists and spreadsheet – for numeric and statistical representations
- Data and statistics - supporting statistical analysis and display
- Notes – for writing
However, the ways in which these functions offer analysis, manipulation and display, are what put the TI-Nspire in a league of its own. For example, multiple representations allow problems to be viewed in different ways – algebraically, graphically, geometrically, numerically and in writing – all on a single screen.
Not only can representations be explored individually but up to four can be displayed on the same screen, each dynamically linked. This enables students see how changes to one representation are instantly reflected in others, providing interactive feedback in real time.
'Grab and move' allows students to model changes
I particularly like the ‘grab-and-move’ feature with which students can manipulate the appearance and dimensions of graphs, as well as plotted points, lines etc. They can ‘grab-and-move’ properties and variables in real time to instantly see the effect of changes. With this facility learners can really investigate and explore objects. Again, I find the document structure offers the familiarity of word processing and file storage features of a computer, permitting work to be edited and saved in complete confidence.
Students can easily view and complete tasks and documents in the classroom or at home. Indeed, the device can even be programmed, enabling both teachers and students to write their own step-by-step programmes to support lessons and learners to create simple programs and understand basic programming concepts.
The TI-Nspire computer software included in the pack offers identical functionality on desktop and laptop computers, allowing teachers to easily incorporate TI-Nspire computer software or TI-Nspire handhelds, or both, into the classroom where the device can be used as a demonstration tool during a lesson and for student use at home. Just like the handheld, the software features the same ability to save and review work.
TI-Nspire is both backward-compatible and forward looking: the keypad can snap out and be replaced with the optional TI-84 Plus Keypad that provides compatibility with TI-83 Plus, TI-84 Plus and TI-84 Plus graphing calculators. In its CAS (Computer Algebra System) version it allows the manipulation of mathematical expressions and functions (Including symbolic algebra, symbolic calculus, symbolic linear differential equations, symbolic equation solver, symbolic units of measure and constants) in addition to the features of the standard TI-Nspire.
It has been many years since the first graphical calculators appeared and then it was a huge leap forward in handheld technology. The TI-nspire defines the next generation of handheld ‘calculator’ products and is one that we can expect to see in many more classrooms of the 21st Century.
Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose 5
Ease of use 4
Value for money 4
Graphical calculator/handheld computer that can display up to four simultaneous on-screen representations of a mathematical expression. Special "Teacher Bundle" is available from education suppliers: TI-Nspire handheld, TI-Nspire computer software and TI-84 Plus Keypad, for under £70 inc VAT.
Texas Instruments, 800 Pavilion Drive, Northampton NN4 7YL
Tel: 01604 663000
The TI-Nspire handheld has been approved for examination use by the International Baccalaureate and by the Joint Council for Qualifications.
Later this year Texas Instruments will release a wireless network system for the TI-Nspire handhelds, to support collaborative work and greater teacher understanding of student capability. The system is being tested in UK schools and was previewed at the BETT 2009 educational technology show in January.