It’s accepted wisdom that students of High School math and advanced science classes need to use an expensive handheld graphing calculator. At $100 a pop, the price can add up to some serious cash for a school or district. There is an inexpensive, or free, alternative for schools where teachers and students have notebooks. They can be used for solving complex equations, graphing lab results and even working with pesky trig problems. The bonus is that with full-size color screens, notebooks can produce better looking results than even the best handheld calculator can. Here’re four of my favorite calculator programs.
Think Holt, Rinehart and Winston and you think of textbooks, but the publisher also has a great Web-based graphing calculator available for a free download. It can work with up to four independent variables and has full trigonometric functions. On top of showing the intersections between lines, you can zoom in on any line.
The Java-based GCalc2
is incredibly powerful, but to make it work, you’ll need t load the latest release of Java JRE software. It runs as an applet and presents a rather intimidating interface that definitely requires reading the manual to make the most of the program. Just type in your function in the unmarked text bar at the top and it’s immediately graphed.
A more kid-friendly Java calculator comes from CoolMath’s online math site, which, like the rest of the site, is a real winner. The center of attention of the Graphit Graphing Calculator is the keypad on the left, which has number keys as well as trig functions and the ability to zoom. On the downside, to graph a function, you need to hit the tiny Eval button, which is well hidden in the keypad.
The beauty of WebGraphic.com’s online graphing calculator is that rather than a one size doesn’t fit all approach, it has different levels for basic, intermediate and advanced work, making it perfect for different classes and needs. To use its most basic functions, you can just jump right in, but if you register, you can graph functions and solve systems of equations. Paying members get 3-D visuals as well as some truly cool math abilities, and it costs $75 for a class of up to 35 students and decreases as the volume rises. There are a bunch of how-to examples, but do yourself (and your class favor) and spend sometime exploring the Weird functions area.