Category Archives: Education

Graphing Calculators Still? Comparing 1990 vs 2018 Technology

When I was going into high-school back in 1990 a graphing calculator was an advanced piece of technology. Some of my friends managed to program small games into it, and the ability to produce graphs in something “so small” was impressive. The calculator that I had for high-school and into university was the Texas Instruments TI-81.

That was 28-years ago, now that I have a son going into high-school I was expecting things to have changed. My son is required to take a laptop to school for all of his school-work, and even my daughter, beginning in grade 4, had to bring a iPad to school. Both of them have an immense amount of computational power in those machines, far more than could even be shoved into a graphing calculator, but you know what?

High School Students, in 2018, still are required to spend over $200 on a single usage graphing calculator!

I previously wrote about a free¬†alternative for graphing calculators in “Why Are There Still Graphing Calculators?“, but when we received my son’s calculator with the rest of his stationary last week I was again incensed with the ridiculousness of it!

Just for fun I decided to compare a few technologies from 1990 and 2018. The 1990 version is on the top or left, and the 2018 version is on the bottom or right:

Mobile Cell PhonesGame Consoles

Laptop Computers

Windows Operating System

And the Venerable Graphing Calculator

There have been massive advances in all of those, except the graphing calculator.

Thankfully there are glimmers of hope that by the time my grade 1 kid enters high-school we won’t be forced to purchase a $229.00 calculator…

Why Are There Still Graphing Calculators?

One of the things that I really thought would be replaced by the time my own kids got into high school were Graphing Calculators. In the age of Smart Phones, Tablets, and laptops, Graphing Calculators should have gone the way of the Dodo, right?


We got our son’s stationary list for grade-10 and a $229.00 Graphing Calculator is listed as a required item! The school already requires him to have a laptop, and now they want us to shell out another $229 for a calculator!

Sorry about all the exclamation points, but come on, a graphing calculator in 2017?

I realise that it isn’t actually up to the school, but rather it is a government testing requirement, but come on, a $100 tablet could run circles around the processing power of a graphing calculator, as could the ambiguous smartphone that nearly every teenager already has!

We also need to realise that requiring the purchase of a graphing calculator creates an accessibility problem for lower income families.

To see what else is available out there I researched and downloaded an app called Desmos. Desmos has actually been approved in 14 US states for use during tests. They have partnered with testing companies for the use of the their app, and it seems to be a great option. You can use the online version and check it out on their web-site, and it’s also available on Android and iOS.

Not only does this app do everything that a graphing calculator does, but it actually does more. You can zoom in on the graphs and you can “slide” the values to see how it affects the graphs.

Oh yeah, and the Desmos app is FREE!

Unfortunately we are stuck purchasing a $229.00 graphing calculator for our eldest son as it’s the only way that he can take the government tests. I am hoping that maybe by the time our youngest is in high-school we’ll be able to use the more powerful, and much cheaper app …