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Most adults get by using the handy calculators on smartphones, but students need special calculators for school. Whether you’re looking for basic calculators for kids in the lower grades or fancy graphing calculators for students in high school or college, choosing the right model is critical.
Here are seven tips to help you select the school calculator that will meet your child’s needs:
“When it comes to graphing calculators, teachers choose a model for a specific reason, such as age appropriateness, the latest features, etc., so be sure to purchase the exact model they recommend,” counsels Tom Reardon, a math education consultant and former math teacher in Ohio. “I would have parents that would buy their student a TI-89, thinking that the bigger the number, the better the calculator. But it was very difficult for the student to learn how to use a different calculator [than we used in class] on his or her own.” Calculus is hard enough without having to figure out how to adapt the lesson to a calculator with different functions than the one the teacher’s using.
Teachers in the lower grades are often less exacting in their requirements because the equations are simpler. This gives parents and students more freedom of choice. Make sure your child can easily and accurately use the keyboard and read the display. For young kids prone to dropping, make sure the housing is sturdy enough to handle a fall.
“Since they’re often already packaged and can’t be explored, research graphing calculators before you go to the store,” Reardon says. Most manufacturers, like Texas Instruments™, enable side-by-side comparisons of features and functions. As with all technology purchases, explore guarantees and warranties that can make replacing calculators easier and less expensive. Most of the high-end models are built to last.
“Look for very clear graphics,” says Mark Kronenberg, founder of Math 1-2-3®, a New York-based math tutoring and test preparation company. “The user should easily and clearly see the area being filled in.” If the same model comes in greyscale and color, get the color version for clearer reading.
Most graphing calculators have the same RAM, but the options vary widely in terms of flash memory. If you can afford it, get more memory to increase the number of equations stored and make processing faster.
More isn’t necessarily better. Ideally, Kronenberg says, “fewer buttons are required to complete functions like calculating min/max and finding where the graph crosses the X-axis.” Run a few equations on the graphing calculators you’re considering to see which is most efficient.
Certain calculators are allowed on tests like the SAT and ACT. “Think about what exams or tests your child will take in the coming years,” Reardon notes. Choose one of those models to help your child feel comfortable and work faster by using a familiar calculator during the exams.
Though it can be intimidating to look at the large variety of features on such small devices, take heart. With a little preparation and user testing, you can choose the right school calculator for your student.