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Fancy Calculators

On Wed, 26 Feb 1997, David Thiessen wrote:
> How many of your physics students know how to program their fancy
> they can't learn it from the
> manual because they don't understand the manual.

Our math department has settled on the TI85 as the calculator of choice.
The math and science teachers met a number of times to discuss our
students lack of calculator savvy.  From these discussions we initiated a
number of "clip" courses.  These  are classes of various durations held
during study halls, lunch, before and after school, Saturday etc.

We started with basic calculator functions using the TI30.  This is
targeted to those who want to know how to effectively use the trig, log,
scientific notation, linear regression and other "advanced" functions on
this calculator.  

During the class the teacher tries to add suggestions as to when the
calculator is appropriate and when with a little thinking you could do it
faster in your head.
This class runs for a couple of one hour sessions (or one week of lunch)
and has been most valuable.  The idea has spread and now we offer about 10
of these types of courses (how to use pagemaker, how to scan, 
 how to build home pages etc etc.)

On the TI-85 side we started with the same type of class and then started
to offer beginning programming.  Then we started playing with zshell.  I
must admit some/many of the students are more interested in the games
than in the programming.  We now hold beginning programming classes and
will start to offer some z80 programming intro classes (and to think i
threw away all my old z80 manuals).  There are  a lot of teachable moments
when students program their calculators to solve a physics problem.   

We went this direction to offer to our students some instruction without
taking away from "real" class time. This was particularly important to our
math teachers.  It also allows some flexibility in that the student who
figured it all out for herself does not have to come to the class.

We also discussed and decided on a "minimum expectations list" for our
students.  This is constantly being revised as we have just started it.
It includes things like the following:
By junior year honors:
Students should know the sin/cos for the following common angles
0, pi/6, pi/4, pi/2  etc. 
without having to use a calculator.
Students should be able to give the general shape of the graph of a trig
function including the amplitude, period, vertical offset and phase shift

>From this list we are at least consistent when working with our students.
I know when I am in the lab i should/will be able to query students and
expect them to _know_ these things and that other teachers have the same
This was in response to a lot of feedback we received from students who
thought teacher "a" was unreasonable when he/she required students to know
something while in the very next period the teacher let them use a

The down side to all of this is the amount of teacher prep time required
to put together the curriculum.  We have let students teach some of the
classes with some success.  We have done a few classes at night and
allowed parents to come. Another concern is that one of our classes
(javascript) has been meeting for the entire semester and there are some
discussions going on that maybe students should get "credit" for these
classes.  At this time all of these classes are voluntary and without
credit of any kind.

Bruce Esser
Physics Teacher                    Something witty
Marian High School                     Should go here