Because there are a lot of different graphing calculators on the market, it’s hard to find the best graphing calculator for high school students. They range from the basic black-and-white graphing calculator to the amazing TI NSpire CX with its color screen and rechargeable battery. TI Wizard finds out which is the best graphing calculator for high school students.
Many high school students start their math careers in the Algebra and Geometry track. This covers topics such as linear equations and graphs, as well as more advanced topics such as inequalities. A lot of high schools recommend a specific model of calculator due to its low cost and simplicity: the TI-83 Plus family. This family encompasses the TI-83 Plus, TI-84 Plus, and TI-84 Plus Silver Edition. There is little to no functional difference between any of these models of calculator except for the expanded memory of the TI-84 Plus and TI-84 Plus Silver Edition. However, the small differences (such as the USB connector on the TI-84 Plus versus the old Graphlink cable required for the TI-83 Plus) make it worth spending the less-than-$10 difference between the two to get the newer TI-84 Plus.
However, some enthusiastic math students may want to consider the more advanced TI NSpire. A unique feature of the NSpire is its two keypads– once you swap out the TI NSpire’s keypad for a TI-84 Plus compatible one, the calculator functions exactly like a TI-84 Plus and is compatible with all TI-83 Plus/TI-84 Plus apps, games, and instructions. Swap the NSpire keypad back in to get advanced features such as Lua scripting, 3D graphing, and spreadsheet editing. The TI NSpire may actually be the best deal out of all of the calculators due to its ability to switch into a sort of “advanced” mode when needed. This is great when taking Chemistry and Biology later in high school, as the graphing and spreadsheet functions make data collection in labs easy.
If you have a little more money to spend, TI NSpire (non-CAS) is the best graphing calculator for high school. Otherwise, the good old TI-84 Plus will get you buy just fine in high school Algebra and Geometry. If you have the option of buying a TI-83 Plus, I would avoid doing so unless you do not plan on playing games at all or you can get the TI-83 Plus significantly cheaper than the TI-84 Plus. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a color screen, you can wait until Spring of 2013 to get your hands on the new TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition.
Some students may choose to go onto Pre-Calculus or Calculus in high school as well. Similar to Algebra and Geometry, the TI-83 Plus/TI-84 Plus family is often recommended in schools for their simplicity. While the TI-84 Plus will do just fine, even in the most advanced calculus courses in universities, I recommend the TI NSpire (with CAS) for calculus students. The Computer Algebra System (CAS) will aid you in solving equations. Unlike regular calculators that show you decimal numbers, the CAS will give you answers in terms of Pi and variables. This is immensely helpful when checking your work. It’s important to note, most teachers and some standardized tests (mainly the ACT in the United States) will not allow the CAS. However, the SAT and AP tests do permit the NSpire CAS on the tests. Alternatively, if you do not need the CAS, you can purchase a Non-CAS model of the TI NSpire that is allowed on all major standardized tests. Or if you want to get really fancy, you may consider the TI NSpire CX with a color screen. And yes, games can be in color on the TI NSpire CX as well.
The TI-84 Plus never loses its value or usefulness and will work great in all calculus and pre-calculus courses, but the TI NSpire (CAS, non-CAS) reigns supreme with its ability to draw 3D graphs and aid you in checking your work with a computer algebra system. Even better, if you choose to buy the TI NSpire (non-CAS, with swappable keypad), it’s like having both the TI-84 Plus and TI NSpire, making it the best graphing calculator for high school students, whether you are taking geometry or calculus.