Use of newer, very high power calculators?



#16

I have what might be kind of a strange topic. This is one of those pointless "around the water cooler" topics, LOL, but I'm stuck at home babysitting today and am bored.

The TI Nspire thread got me thinking about this. I went and watched the demo videos for that calculator and I have a new HP50g.

Am I the weird one because I don't really see the usefulness of many of the advanced features of these calculators? I watched the TI videos and really couldn't see a single one of their fancy features that I would ever use. I bought my 50g because I've had my 48S for about 8-10 years and was just bored and wanted a new toy.

I have Matlab, Mathematica, and Mathcad on my notebook computer and I can guarantee that they do a LOT better job at displaying plots, running programs, FFTs, manipulating algebraic expressions, etc. I can also print results, copy results into technical reports, etc. using those programs.

I use my calculator when doing manual calcs, usually to understand a topic well enough to program it or check someone else's program. Programming my calculator would defeat this purpose because I learn what's going on by watching how the numbers come out the old fashioned way. The only advanced function I use is the occasional definite integral during virtual work calculations. I basically want my calculator to be screamin' fast at punching through big hairy equations with lots of nested radicals and other crazy stuff. The extreme superiority of RPL is why I use HPs.

As background, I'm a structural engineer (research-oriented, not design any more) in my mid-30s. In the past, mostly in undergrad, I spent time programming my (then) 28S and 48S. Turns out that I think that was a mistake too. It helped my grades, but I am not as good at doing a lot of that stuff by hand now as I should be.

Anyway, maybe I'm missing something: some other way to use my HPs to be more efficient. Do you guys use the more advanced features? How and why do you use them instead of tools on your computers? Maybe I can learn something from how you use it.

Edited: 2 Aug 2007, 12:31 p.m.


#17

Hi Brad.

At the risk of drawing ire from those who think that calculators have no place in the public school math classrooms, let me tell you why some educators see their value. The simple fact is that many kids just don't get the math, despite teachers' best efforts at teaching it. Some kids may come to understand slope a little easier if they can see the graph of y=2x and see how the slope changes as they drag the equation line to different angles, which the TI Nspire lets them do. Or they may understand the relationship between a circle's circumference and diameter if they draw a circle and make it bigger or smaller by dragging it and seeing that, while circumference and diameter change, the relationship between them (pi) stays constant. Some kids learn graphically, and the Nspire builds upon that. I don't think the Nspire is terribly useful outside of the educational environment, but it certainly has value within it, in my opinion.

It's just another tool, but it helps some kids learn.


#18

Don, that may be true, what you said about seeing the slope of a line as you drag it all around the x-y plane, but it is still better to give the kid a pencil, AN ERASER, and ample paper to plot the equation and then mathematically tweak the equation and then plot it manually to see the changes... and there is great value in making mistakes, too! You then get to see how things do vary with whatever and the limitations of methods and techniques.

I know, I know, what (American) kid today will sit and do all this? Even "back in the day" we actually hated it and wished for one of those computers like we read about in science fiction stories to make homework easier. I only know the value of that old fashioned stuff now.


#19

Ed, I see this more as you do. TI's new toy is obviously intended to maximize the visual aspects of learning. I'm not so sure this is a good thing.

I attended a teaching workshop a few weeks ago and learned about learning styles. One of the major learning dimensions is the visual<--->verbal dimension. Most modern students apparently lean heavily toward the visual end and have great trouble learning from verbal input only. This shows up partially in the lecture style and the newfound desire to get as much visual input as possible. Traditional lectures are probably 90%+ verbal. I guess that PREVIOUSLY worked ok. We all like to see pictures and diagrams, but apparently, modern students are skewed VERY far toward the visual side. One of the strategies in our workshop was to try balance out the students' learning styles, not just go with whatever style they learn best with.

I'd speculate that the shift away from verbal learning styles probably goes back to what kids do nowadays. I am just barely old enough to NOT have had more than 13 channels on the TV and Pac Man was about as good as the video games got. I read literally dozens of books by the time I was 10. We really push reading for our son, but I'm sure he hasn't read 1/4 of what I did years ago. There's just too much other stuff to do.

Just like estimation skills dropped dramatically when the HP35 replaced slide rules in 1972 (or so my advising professor says), so will the ability to learn from verbal stimuli. I'm not a doom-sayer, but one has to wonder where all that ends up someday.

#20

Ed, the trick is getting the kids attention. I guess that's always been the trick. In today's classrooms, we teachers are competing against Walkmen (oops, I guess I'm out of touch), Ipods, cell phones, xboxes, now iphones, all kinds of (in our opinion, I'm sure) crap. But that's the world of many of these kids, and if we can capture their attention with a calculator and teach them some math in the process, so be it. It's just another tool, like my electronic Jeopardy game I use to review units with them.

So many kids don't know the basics, and I try to teach them, but I don't reach every kid, unfortunately. I was a software guy for 28 years then went back to school to become a middle school math teacher. I would not recommend that to any of you engineeers out there who are sick of status reports and unit meetings, however. The reality is this: if you are a principal, would you hire a new teacher fresh out of college with a BA who will make $24,000 per year, or a guy like me with 2 Masters degrees who must make (according to the salary schedule) $45,000 per year? Had I realized that reality a couple of years ago, I might have made a different choice.


#21

Ah, Don, I only teach my kids at home... well, I try to. I do teach college level chemistry and physics, but even there I see this very frightening erosion of:

estimation skills,
calculational skills,
increased difficulty with things abstract

GameBoy, XBox, PS2, TV, even calculators add to this. I truly wish the elementary and middle school... even high school curricula would just resist scratching the itch and not include the use of calculators.

There was once here a very bright high school poster to this board, Ben Salinas, I believe, but kids like that are rarer than we'd like to think, and yes, he and some of his friends benefited from using HP 32SII's, 49G's, etc., as they already knew how to handle equations, integration, problem solving, etc. But most other kids will simply use it... and the computer... to lighten the load and skip the drudgery, without realizing that the drudgery IS the gold.

If I'm honest with myself, I'd admit that at that age, even though computers were room-sized affairs, home computers were science fiction, and video game???... you mean pinball down in the arcade?... I'd just use an electronic calculator as a crutch, just like that.

Fortunately for me, I first was able to obtain (at great personal cost; my folks were not interested in paying relative megabucks for this calculating thing) a calculator very late in high school and did not get my programmable scientific HP until college. At least by then, I wanted to learn stuff. But earlier? I was a kid, like today's.

My vote- calcs out of school until late high school.


#22

Ed, I graduated high school in 1968, before calculators hit the market. My first was a Victor MEC portable, 12 digit LED, 4 functions with memory, probably cost $300 around 1970. Ah, those were the days. But you are right, if I had had it in high school I surely wouldn't have learned as much.

#23

Ah, the use of particular features is most often strongly influenced by your background and needs. I am a chemist, research and some teaching, and while I bought my HP 32sII for an industrial position, it turns out that its demands on the 32sII were not nearly what I expected. Research seemed to make somewhat heavier demands and for me requires the use of most of the features I think folks here ordinarily use, as the trig functions, light to moderate use of the statistical functions, light to medium programming for spot calculational needs for specific problems. Any conversions I need are not pre-hard wired in, so they have to be programmed in, though I'd hardly call that programming, use good use of the constants library :) . Granted, the mathematical and plotting programs you mentioned are of a different league, a (especially a recent model) HP calculator weighs almost nothing and are conveniently small.

Anyway, I am more used to banging it out on a (RPN) calculator than setting up a program on a computer (from the days of long job submission lines to the central mainframe) and so if I don't have some huge set of hairy equations good only enough for theoreticians, my first impulse is to reach for the calculator, even if I have to do some medium to heavy programming.

Soooo... I use the program functions and memory registers quite a bit, trig and stat functions, constants library, and I have yet to master the use of storing and using equations in the equation library, as that is newer to me... but it's my next target to acquire!

#24

I agree that students have different uses for a calculator than "professionals". There appear to be lots of niche markets for professional calculators, that sell quite cheaply. There are even calculators for cooks, and that can't be that big a market!

Rather than try to produce the end-all-be-all of calculators, or end up with compromises that will annoy someone, why not produce a blank calculator (I'm thining HP-41 Opt 001, here, aka "Blanknut"), and an application to mix and match your own functions (and hopefully write your own in "mcode", or whatever it's called these days), print an overlay (offer it as a service for $5-$10 a piece?), and you're done. The 35S seems to have gotten the form-factor almost right: a double-width ENTER key, clicky keys, arrows, high-contrast colors, a more-than-one line display.

I *love* the calculator form factor. I love the programmability, but I find most user-level programs to be too slow. And I never use 90% of the functions.

Edited: 2 Aug 2007, 2:31 p.m.


#25

Quote:
Rather than try to produce the end-all-be-all of calculators, or end up with compromises that will annoy someone, why not produce a blank calculator (I'm thining HP-41 Opt 001, here, aka "Blanknut"), and an application to mix and match your own functions (and hopefully write your own in "mcode", or whatever it's called these days), print an overlay (offer it as a service for $5-$10 a piece?), and you're done.

That's what I've done on my new calculator design. The keypad overlay is completely replaceable.

Don't like the key arrangement I picked? - change it.
Want Algebraic instead of RPN? - change it.
Don't like how the soft key menus work? - change it.

It's just a bit of code and a new keypad overlay in any case.

Dave.

#26

Brad,

Couldn't help to reply when I read about your background. I'm a structures guy too. I'm currently in aerostructures, and have fallen into a similar trap (ie. less proficient in hand-calcs due to the past lure of programming it in to excel on exams).

I most appreciate being able to hammer out convoluted expressions on my old 32sii...and never need to concern myself with missed keystrokes, etc.

I'm leaving my job here for two years worth of graduate research funding in VA. Specifically, I'm tied to AOE at VT, but will be doing my work in Hampton. I'll be working on my aero M.S.

I'm very tempted to shelf my 50g in favor of my 33s (or 35s when I can finally get my hands on one!)

From your profile and post, I'd be tempted to guess you're at VT? If so, perhaps our paths will cross at some point!


#27

Yep, you guessed it! I'm at VT doing research. Good luck w/ your program. I'm sure it will be fun.

#28

Yet another VT AOE Structures guy here! As much as I appreciate its capabilities, my 48GX tends to gather dust in my HP collection. For years I've been using a beat-up 11C at work. Now a new (non-crooked LCD) 35s is on my desk. I'd love to use the 15C I bought while at school in the early '80s, but it's too valuable to expose to Diet Coke Big Gulps, hydraulic fluid, etc.

For my application of high-tempo aerospace repairs, a simple RPN programmable scientific can't be beat. If it gets too hairy for hand calcs and short programs, I pass the problem to the Stress group and move on to the next forest fire...

#29

Good question.
I guess it depends on your line of study/work.
I find I have little use for calculators or computers in relation to my studies.
The 50G is a capable machine. But it won't help me with the kind of eg, Sturm-Liouville, problems I need to solve.
I found Mathematica to be little help with complex integration and infinite Fourier series.
The TI-Nspire seems very good at showing relationships. But, if you don't 'get it' by looking at the equations, then maybe you are on the wrong course.
I think that's enough.
#30

Quote:
I have what might be kind of a strange topic. This is one of those pointless "around the water cooler" topics, LOL, but I'm stuck at home babysitting today and am bored.

The TI Nspire thread got me thinking about this. I went and watched the demo videos for that calculator and I have a new HP50g.

Am I the weird one because I don't really see the usefulness of many of the advanced features of these calculators? I watched the TI videos and really couldn't see a single one of their fancy features that I would ever use. I bought my 50g because I've had my 48S for about 8-10 years and was just bored and wanted a new toy.


If you're weird then I am too! I'm an electronics design engineer and have essentially zero need for a programmable calculator. The most complex feature I ever use is the solver.

That is why my daily use calculators are (and have been for the last 20 years or so) simple scientific's like the HP20S or Casio's like the FX-61F, 991ES, FX-100 type etc. My programmable 28S and 48SX sit in the draw gathering dust because they are next to useless for daily use.

That is why I'm pretty disappointed that the new 35S is optimised as a programmable calc. So those who want all those basic scientific functions on primary keys miss out big time.

Dave.


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