Science and Math’s Launch Pad
Rarely does the arrangement of a calculator’s keypad get me excited, but when it’s a new pad for TI’s Nspire education calculator it’s a big deal. That’s because Nspire is the rare calculator where you can swap keypads.
The third keypad in the series, the Touchpad Handheld device snaps into place below the system’s screen. It works on the latest version of the calculator as well as the first generation Nspire device. Colored dark blue and white, the new keypad has a rectangular touch pad with a center activation switch and a thumb keyboard below.
All told, I found the new keypad less cluttered and easier to navigate than the original keypad, which had its alphabetic keys embedded among the larger number and function buttons. Using the old keypad I found that I often hit the letters by accident or hit the wrong ones.
I found the touchpad to be hard to get a feel for with me over- or undershooting the target for awhile. After a week of use, using it felt intuitive. TI also sells a keypad that emulates the TI-84 calculator so the same set of base calculators can do double duty in the math and science classrooms.
A big part of the revamping of the Nspire is a new round of software. The downloadable OS 2.0 provides a better home screen that opens up the world of the calculators abilities with a click. My favorite is the Scratchpad that provides teachers or students with an open space for making calculations or quickly graphing a line. It works well with a variety of mathematical operations, including functions, parametrics, polar and scatter plots.
There’s a key dedicated to getting to the Scratchpad, so the whole class can put it on screen in a matter of seconds. I was able to graph a simple polynomial in about 5 seconds and then show how changing the parameters of the function affects the graph, a great lesson for an algebra class that would take quite some time to set up on the board.
A big bonus is that the new keypad and Nspire calculator work with TI’s Navigator wireless cradles. Kids or teachers can move projects to and from a PC or Macintosh computer via the included USB cable. The Nspire has the software for directly connecting it to Vernier sensors and probes already installed for an instant physics or biology lab.
Each calculator comes with SmartView emulation software that can mimic the look, feel and abilities of the Nspire on a PC for presenting to the class with a projector or big-screen monitor. The big difference is that unlike the 3.7-inch monochrome screen on the device, the software shows functions in color so that, for instance, a student can color code different lines of a function’s family of curves.
The teacher’s edition of the SmartView software takes this a step further with the ability to send assignments and quiz questions to students. The program works with PCs and Macs and has several lesson plans installed. TI offers more online, including a seasonal newsletter that has more ideas and activities as well as tricks and tips for getting the most out of the Nspire hardware.
Like earlier models, the calculator is still permitted on the major national high-school exams, including ACT, AP, IB and PSAT/NSMQT and SAT. Look for TI to offer a rechargeable battery pack for the Nspire sometime this summer that will replace the 4 AA disposable batteries it currently uses.
Still, the Nspire weighs more than 11-ounces and is among the largest devices of its kind. It positively dwarfs smaller devices, like Casio’s fold open fx-9860G Slim. At $150 for the calculator and keypad, $10 for the keypad alone and new software that’s free for the downloading, the Nspire does exactly what its name implies: inspires a generation of math teachers and students.
TI-Nspire with Touchpad Handheld
$10 for keypad
$160 for calculator
+ Inexpensive upgrade for Nspire users
+ New OS software
+ Scratchpad workspace
+ New keypad works on older Nspire calculator
- Hard to get the feel of touchpad
- Calculator is huge and heavy