Math is such a daunting subject for many because it can be so abstract.
One way to ground the concepts of math is to graph the functions you study. In beginning math courses, these are typically very basic functions with one variable, like straight lines and parabolas.
As your math courses become more advanced, the functions you study also become more advanced. Eventually, math students study functions with multiple variables. These kinds of functions are extremely insightful and can emulate critical parts of the natural world. However, in order to study them, new tools and technologies must be learned.
While graphing formulas by hand is a possibility, understanding the skill requires that the formulas be graphed, to begin with. This is where graphing calculators come in handy. The scaffolding they provide allows them to be ideal tools in the world of learning math.
In this article, we will discuss an effective tool for studying functions of multiple variables – a 3D graphing calculator. In particular, we will discuss the TI-Nspire CX graphing calculator made by Texas Instruments. This popular brand behind this graphing calculator is unsurprisingly one of the best on the market. With every Texas instrument, you can look forward to a quality calculator that will deliver in all the aspects that you want it to.
After giving a brief overview of this device and emphasizing its benefits and drawbacks, we compare this 3D graphing calculator to similar products, noting why we think the TI-Nspire CX is superior. Finally, we give our thoughts on the future of 3D graphing calculators. This in-depth review will allow you to determine whether or not this is the tool that you need in your math class or profession.
When we were on the hunt to determining what the best 3D graphing calculator was, there were a couple of things that we considered. Among these factors were the durability, functionality, and usability of the graphing calculator.
AN OVERVIEW OF THE TI-NSPIRE CX 3D GRAPHING CALCULATOR
This graphing calculator can be found on a variety of retailers including Amazon. When you purchase this 3D graphing calculator, you will find that it comes with a rechargeable battery that lasts for up to two weeks, as well as a backlit color screen. It also uses a touchpad to facilitate navigation and has a small keyboard at the bottom.
Furthermore, this 3D graphing calculator weighs about 7 ounces and is considered one of the lightest and thinnest 3D graphing calculators available.
This product also comes with the TI-Nspire CX Student Software, which allows you to essentially turn a computer into your 3D graphing calculator. This connectivity also allows you to transfer data from your computer to your calculator, allowing you to overlay graphs and equations on digital images.
Unlike some other graphing calculators in Texas Instrument’s lineup, the TI-Nspire CX functions very much like a computer, allowing you to create documents and save work on the calculator.
This calculator has also been approved for many college-entrance exams like the SAT and ACT. Since this is a 3D graphing calculator, it allows students to input functions with 3 variables and get an output of a color graph.
There are also a number of integrated math templates on this 3D graphing calculator that allow students from disciplines like chemistry to enter formulas in proper form.
THE BENEFITS OF THE TI-NSPIRE CX 3D GRAPHING CALCULATOR
The major distinguishing characteristic of this 3D graphing calculator is its 3D graphing capability. This is an incredible feature that turns your calculator into a powerful learning tool.
In order to access this feature, all you need to do is input an equation of 3 variables into the calculator and graph it. You can then manually rotate the graph in order to observe it from many angles. Additionally, you can press a letter on the keyboard to have the graph rotated continuously.
What’s great about this rotation feature is that students can view the graph from every possible angle, including underneath it or from a bird’s eye view. This can help with visualizing certain functions, which can be difficult for students just starting to study multi-variable functions.
Without graphing these functions on a calculator, many students are forced to graph them by hand in order to get a sense of their shape and properties. While this can be an effective action, it also usually results in a messy graph that is not conducive to building knowledge and memories.
The TI-Nspire CX graphing calculator, however, will produce a cleaner, fuller, more organized picture of a function, providing the aesthetically perfect material for building knowledge and memories. This is important since forming a solid conceptual base will aid you in later math classes.
This 3D graphing feature would be welcome even if it were in black and white. It’s merely the cherry on top that the TI-Nspire CX features a color display, as this is a newer addition to Texas Instrument’s arsenal. This not only enhances the 3D graphing feature, but also makes the calculator easier on your eyes when using for a long period of time.
Colorless calculators can be uninspiring at best and soporific at worst. Furthermore, they can be difficult to use at night in low-light settings. The TI-Nspire CX avoids these consequences by featuring a vibrant, backlit display that is ideal for day or night usage. This makes it a dynamic calculator that can be relied upon at all times.
THE BENEFITS OF THE TI-NSPIRE CX STUDENT SOFTWARE
The software that accompanies this product also makes it very versatile, as many of the calculator’s features can be duplicated on a computer screen. A video of what this looks like can be found here.
This is an attractive feature that makes this calculator ideal for students or teachers.
Many proponents of this software laud it for being able to help students in a more interactive, familiar way. While the TI-Nspire CX’s screen is effective, it’s still only about 3-inches diagonally, making it difficult to use for a long period of time.
A computer screen, however, is usually at least 11 inches diagonally, and often larger. Furthermore, they usually display images in higher resolution. This makes computer screens a better teaching tool for some students, making the associated software an invaluable resource.
The TI-Nspire CX software is also perfect for teachers. This software allows teachers to transfer files from their calculator to their computer, perhaps if they want to continue working on some lesson at home. Many teachers use a 3D graphing calculator to create practice problems for students, but they might need to work on this away from school due to some other commitment. This is only possible on the TI-Nspire CX due to this software.
Additionally, many teachers like to pick up where the class left off, and sometimes this means diving right back into analyzing a graph from the previous class.
Some teachers will spend much of the class just re-drawing a previously studied graph on the board. This is an inefficient use of class time. Teachers with the TI-Nspire CX software can avoid messy hand drawings and instantly represent a graph of a function on a larger screen for the class to study. Then, the teacher can save this image at the end of the class and reproduce it the next day. This makes life a lot easier for the teacher and also prevents inconsistencies between classes.
Even further, the TI-Nspire CX software also allows you to write notes, which would be perfect for a teacher that was designing a lesson plan. Many math teachers plan their lessons around using a 3D graphing calculator, as this technological integration captures the attention of the students and makes learning feel more interactive. Math teachers are able to use the TI-Nspire CX software to plan these lessons ahead of time so that they are prepared to teach.
THE DRAWBACKS OF THE TI-NSPIRE CX 3D GRAPHING CALCULATOR
The main drawback is that the operating system used on the TI-Nspire CX 3D graphing calculator is different than the one used on other Texas Instrument graphing calculators, like the classic TI-83 Plus and TI-84 Plus.
While this newer operating system does have many amazing features, it also has a much higher learning curve. This means that it will take most students several weeks of constant usage before they can use it efficiently. Even then, many students claim it took them several months to fully master.
Even though this 3D graphing calculator looks more like a phone than a traditional calculator, it lacks the former’s instant usability. When you open up a new phone, besides maybe learning several new features, you’re usually able to hit the ground running. This means you can benefit from the device’s features almost immediately.
The TI-Nspire CX 3D graphing calculator, however, will require a bit more patience. This could be detrimental for a student that is relying on a 3D graphing calculator calculator to study for or perform on some exam. These students hardly have enough time to study, let alone learn a new calculator interface.
Even if students do manage to learn the interface quickly, this could still lead to inaccuracies come test time. Students taking a time-sensitive exam should be especially careful if they purchase the TI-Nspire CX. Sticking with your older calculator can be more effective temporarily if you are faster using it.
The other main drawback of this product is the price. Many students claim that $119.99 is not affordable when it comes to a 3D graphing calculator since free online 3D graphing calculators exist.
Yet, these online calculators are not as portable and lack many features of the TI-Nspire CX. If students want to avoid these drawbacks, they might have to take the hit and make the investment.
HOW DOES THE TI-NSPIRE CX 3D GRAPHING CALCULATOR COMPARE TO SIMILAR PRODUCTS?
Despite its price and newer operating system, the TI-Nspire CX 3D graphing calculator is still superior to other 3D graphing calculators on the market.
Texas Instruments also offers the TI-Nspire CX CAS 3D graphing calculator for $144.51. Yet, this calculator is not only more expensive but is also not allowed on the ACT, making it not optimal for high school students.
The TI-Nspire CX CAS can also compute symbolically, making it more advanced than the TI-Nspire CX. This means that you can manipulate matrices with both numbers and various symbols. Ultimately, this makes the TI-Nspire CX CAS ideal for advanced math students or multi-disciplinary students studying science, technology, engineering, and math.
Many online 3D graphing calculators can be found, like the one offered by WolframAlpha.
Many of these online calculators offer some features for free and other functions for an additional cost. For example, WolframAlpha allows you to graph a multi-variable function for free but requires a Pro Plan in order to enlarge the graph and rotate it. This Pro Plan costs $5.49 a month.
Thus, if you are planning on using a 3D graphing calculator for several years, then the initial investment of the TI-Nspire CX might be worthwhile.
If you are only planning on using a 3D graphing calculator for a semester, then you might consider purchasing an online version temporarily. This will allow you to cancel your plan when your course is done and you no longer need a 3D graphing calculator. This could result in saved money.
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OUR FINAL THOUGHTS ON 3D GRAPHING CALCULATORS
At the end of the day, we think the TI-Nspire CX is the best 3D graphing calculator available because it’s so portable. Even though it’s expensive, it’s still cheaper than some other 3D graphing calculators on the market.
If you wanted to save money, you could use a free online calculator or even purchase a cheap online plan. However, these options are risky since you don’t know how long you will need the 3D graphing capability. Some students anticipate only taking one math class and end up majoring in it.
If you have even an iota of interest in math, then we recommend purchasing the TI-Nspire CX 3D graphing calculator. The market for used calculators is huge, so it shouldn’t be hard to sell this device if you end up not needing it beyond one math class. If you do need a 3D graphing calculator in later math classes, then you’ll be glad you purchased the TI-Nspire CX 3D, as using a paid online calculator for a long period of time can be costly and inconvenient.
Regardless, we don’t think you should be too attached to the interfaces of these calculators. We think they will be changing considerably in the near future as our technology evolves.
We can envision a future in which graphs are no longer observed from afar as strangers but instead interacted with as friends. We think virtual reality headsets in the future will allow us to study graphs in radical ways, perhaps by climbing on their curves and expanding them to life-size proportions.
While this might seem unrealistic, we think this future is just around the corner.