Thursday, February 23, 2006

Out Of Character

It's no secret that I'm not a big fan of the graphing calculator. The statistical functions might be nice in some sort of applied social science setting (or you could use real statistcial software); our business math class uses them to automate the calculations of complicated financial formulas (or you could use Excel); some upper level engineering courses use them (instead of something like Maple). But in the math classes that I'm familiar with? A scientific calculator plus access to MS Excel is overkill for most of them. The only times I ever wish that I was facile with the pesky little machines is when I'm teaching calculus and I need to find the preimage of a specific y-value or when I need to graph something in polar coordinates. Of course, now that I have found Grapher in the Utilities folder inside my Applications folder (that, among other things, makes very pretty graphs that can be output as .pdfs), my limited needs for the graphing calculator have waned somewhat.

At this very moment there are seven graphing calculators in my office.

One of them is the TI-84 Rhodium Edition that I have because it is the Official Calculator of the Math Department. Another is a TI-85 that I picked up after a midterm many years ago and whose owner never claimed it. The other five are vintage TI-86s from the Math Department's secret stash. I was hoping to need at least six of them.

Quite in character for me, when I saw the TI-89s (new in box!) and the TI-92s, I nearly grabbed one, just for the sake of the gadgetry. Heck, the TI-92 runs a Motorola 68000 -- isn't that the processor that ran the Mac SE? Then I remembered that it was just a fucking graphing calculator, that I have a G4 in my office, and the only portable technology that I need at this phase in my life is a phone. (Although I am wanting a new phone; my current one is from August 2001. Why are all the cool new phones only for Cingular and not for Verizon? If there was a tiny phone running a 680x0 -- possible, as the cool new phones do come from Motorola -- that worked with Verizon, you know I would buy it.)

After searching through supply closets and cabinets and rummaging through bags of stuff, I have found four of the Math Department's calculator based rangers. (I am SURE that we used to have at least six of them!) It's a sonic motion detector for the graphing calculator!

Tomorrow is the day for my kinesthetic learners to shine! Tomorrow my calculus students will get to experience velocity. Hook the motion detector up to the calculator, run the program, look at the velocity graph on the screen, and then walk back and forth, trying to make your velocity match the graph.

It is harder than it looks. It also takes a lot of time -- both to make sure all the equipment is working and then to do the activity in class. Not coincidentally, I am avoiding my house this afternoon (as Homeless Relative claims to be in town today on his way to State Capital), and I am a full day ahead on my syllabus.