Unexpected Learning from a Calculator

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  • ti85This is my calculator.  It sits on my desk at all times, ready to be called to action at any given moment.  Granted, I now only use it for simple calculations, but it is ALWAYS ready to go.  I purchased it back in 1994 during my freshman year at East High School.  Math was MY subject and I felt that I needed a calculator that could graph equations.  Little did I know that this calculator would start me on a path that ultimately has led me to where I am now.

    The TI-85 in my estimation is the greatest calculator to ever exist.  Yes, there are newer, fancier models, but in terms of pure functionality, simplicity of use, and cost (I just checked, you can buy one on Ebay for as little as $10), the TI-85 still holds up today.  When I first started using it, I was amazed at all of the functions it had.  Most students with fancy graphing calculators probably have no idea what their calculator can do for them, and neither did I when I first bought it.  Soon after the purchase, I was tipped off by some of my other math friends with the same calculator, that you could “write programs” on these calculators that could do your math problems for you!  The prospect of my calculator doing the work for me was intriguing, so I went to work immediately, reading the instruction manual and learning how to write a program.  These were the days long before YouTube when you actually had to read the manual to learn how to do something.  Soon, I was able to take just about any type of problem, write a program for it, enter a few numbers and…Voila!  The problem was solved.  It became a competition between some of my classmates and I as to who could write the best program.  I think I eventually won the prize when I wrote a functioning “Blackjack” game that we all shared and played.

    Some of you may be thinking that I was taking the easy way out, by not taking time to learn how to do the problem, etc.  What the teachers back then didn’t realize is that in order to “write the program” it took hours of thinking about the code, the steps, the ordering, and everything else that went along with programming that function just to solve one type of problem.  By the time I finished the program, I could do the problem in my sleep, but I didn’t have to because I now had a calculator that could do it for me!

    Students today are not a whole lot different than I was back in the early 90’s.  Technology fascinated me then just as it fascinates me now.  Technology fascinates our kids.  There is a tremendous amount of learning that can come from technology.  I credit my career as an educator and an innovator partially to my learning how to program a calculator.

    As a teacher, I am always on the lookout for new ideas and technology that will spark curiosity in students.  They are forcing us to think of new ways to teach them because some (not all!) strategies are simply outdated and need to be put out to pasture.  When I create a lesson or introduce something new to a teacher or student, deep down I want them to take it to the next level, just as I did.  So if there is a way to leverage technology to help students create or simply engage them in a different way, I say, GO FOR IT!  Powerful learning is guaranteed to occur if you are willing to take the chance.