The Dominance of TI Calculators in Education: Is It Hindering Students' Math Skills?

Avery Emberly

Updated Monday, December 25, 2023 at 12:15 AM CDT

The Dominance of TI Calculators in Education: Is It Hindering Students' Math Skills?

The Role of TI Calculators in Classroom Learning

Having a standard calculator for everyone makes it easier for teachers to help students learn how to use them, especially when learning complex functions in trigonometry and calculus. This is why TI calculators have become the go-to choice in classrooms from elementary school to higher education.

Texas Instruments (TI) has been offering teacher/curriculum support services tied to their calculators since at least the 1980s. This gave them leverage to price out competitors and gain the support of school boards. Teachers who were taught with TI calculators in the past now opt for them as teachers themselves, further solidifying TI's hold on the market.

TI calculators have realized early on that teachers and school boards had more control over what students would buy, allowing them to corner the market. However, this dominance may come with unintended consequences.

The Potential Downside of TI Calculators

Ironically, these calculators may actually make students worse at math. Students are allowed to use calculators from an early age, leading to a lack of comfort with working with regular fractions and other fundamental math skills. The lack of comfort with basic math skills can hinder students when they reach higher-level math courses, such as calculus, where understanding and manipulating fractions is crucial.

TI calculators allow students to take shortcuts before they're comfortable working with the underlying math, which can be detrimental to their understanding and success in more advanced math courses. While these calculators provide convenience, they may hinder the development of essential math skills.

Exploring Alternatives and Success Stories

Some students have opted for different calculator brands, such as HP, and have been able to use them throughout their education, though they may face restrictions on usage for certain exams. This highlights the potential for other calculator brands to challenge TI's dominance.

In Japanese schools, graphing calculators are not commonly used, yet Japan ranks #1 in international math proficiency scores, while the US ranks #32. This raises questions about the necessity of TI calculators in achieving math proficiency.

An alternative to TI calculators gaining popularity is Desmos, an online calculator. It is more cost-effective and offers powerful features that can aid in math education. Desmos is being adopted by several districts that have a 1:1 device policy, and it has also been adopted by some testing platforms. This shows that there are viable alternatives to TI calculators that can enhance math education.

while TI calculators have dominated the education market for decades, there are growing concerns about their impact on students' math skills. The reliance on calculators from an early age may hinder the development of fundamental math skills, which can have long-term consequences in higher-level math courses. Exploring alternatives such as HP calculators and online platforms like Desmos can provide educators and students with more options to enhance math education. It is essential to strike a balance between the convenience of calculators and the development of essential math skills for students' long-term success.

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