Power in the palm of your hand

11th May 2001 at 01:00
Adrian Oldknow introduces the use of graphical calculators in data-handling.

It took a long time for calculators to get a firm place in the curriculum but now they are fully embedded in key stage mathematics and beyond. At last it is happening to their much more powerful cousins, graphical calculators, at KS3 and beyond. Modern graphical calculators are hand-held computers costing pound;30-pound;60. They are simple to use, robust and very flexible. They contain built-in software to plot graphs, solve equations, and to manipulate, display and analyse data. There are teachers' models for a few pounds more for connection to large LCD displays costing about pound;100, projected via conventional overhead projectors, which make very cost-effective ways of incorporating ICT into whole-class teaching.

Originally developed for digital cameras and mobile phones, "flash-Rom" allows graphical calculators to store substantial amounts of data, programs and applications. Data can be exchanged between them and PCs, printers, internet and networks. A teacher can find a website with a set of interesting data, capture it to a PC using software such as TI Interactive! (Texas Instruments) and download it to a class set of grapical calculators for all students to work on. They can store their results and graphs on them, and upload them on to a PC or network for printing out or incorporating into a display or project report.

Teachers have considerable flexibility in when and where to use ICT and using them in an ordinary classroom is one way of reducing ever-growing pressure on ICT suites. The Framework for Mathematics at KS3 contains a welter of examples of their use in data-handling, algebra and other parts of the maths curriculum. They are idal ICT tools for tackling the compulsory data-handling coursework in GCSE maths.

Use is far from limited to the maths curriculum. There are now data-capture devices for graphical calculators. The CBL is a versatile data-logger (about pound;120), which comes with probes for temperature, light and voltage, and which can be used with a wide range of proprietary sensors such as pH, force and dissolved CO2.

This year's Association for Science Education conference had numerous workshops on the use of graphical calculators and data-loggers in physics, chemistry, biology and environmental studies. President-elect Ian Galloway showed how Velcro can be used to secure the calcualtor and CBL to a clipboard while doing a sea-shore survey for field work. Another data-logger is the CBR (about pound;70), which is a compact motion detector ideal for use with a graphical calculator and overhead projector display for capturing distance-time graphs in the maths classroom or science lab.

The technology is cheap, tried and tested. Its curricular applications are also well tried and documented. The Department for Education and Employment's Year 7 mathsALIVE! project uses a mixture of this technology. BECTA's Data-capture and modelling in maths and science shows the use of similar technology at KS34 (http:curriculum.becta.org.ukdocserver.php?temid=291).

* Support for teachers is provided through the Mathematical Association's T-cubed programme - contact Ros Hyde, e-mail hyde@tcp.co.uk .

* Further information about T-cubed and a range of hardware and software can be found at: http:www.ti.comcalcukuk.htm Adrian Oldknow is chair of the Mathematical Association's continuing professional development and ICT committees.

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