Monday, November 1, 2010

Why I Nspire? Part 3 -Exam Acceptance

There is a website that can visually display the frequency of word usage. I used to create the following word cloud for the TI website 'Top 10 Questions Parents Ask about Graphing Calculators".
Wordle: Why use a graphing calculator?The word cloud on the right was made by inputting this blog's website. This one appeals to me because it is like the fingerprint for this blog.

Now, for Part 3 in this series ...
One big reason that I made the switch from the TI-83/84 and TI-89 to the TI-Nspire CAS was because it is permitted on the AP Calculus exam. If it wasn't permitted, the decision would have been tougher. This question came up this past week on the AP Calc electronic discussion group.
I wrote that the TI-Nspire CAS's improved speed, math print or 'pretty print' on the input (and not just the output like with the 89), better pixels, and dynamic representations which make it easier to integrate graphical, numerical/tabular, algebraic, and verbal concept development are a few of the reasons we initially made the switch to the Nspire.

The TI-Nspire CAS can be used on all the College Board exams, like PSAT, SAT, AP (including AP Calc, Stats, Physics, Chem, etc.). The TI-Nspire is permitted on the ACT and IB tests, but CAS devices are not.

Today I learned of an exciting resource for IB teachers. "Written by Andy Kemp, a Head of Maths at an IB school in Somerset, the guide is specifically designed to help students understand how the TI-Nspire can be used as an aid to answering exam questions. The exemplar questions in this booklet are the author’s own work, and are written in the style of IB questions. Throughout there is as much emphasis on the mathematics as on the technology, as it is the author’s belief that without the focus on the mathematics, this guide would become little more than a button-pushing exercise."

I know from this website that the TI-Nspire is permitted on many state tests including TAKS. You could contact your local representative to get more info - for example for Texas see this link. Many state exams do not permit CAS.

Another summary of exam acceptance can be found at

There are a number of Test Prep resources and questions that can be used with the Navigator system to help students prepare for these high stakes tests.

If you want to learn more about this educational technology, this year the T^3 International Conference is in Texas. There is even a Calculus Conference-in-a-Conference track.

Technology tools

"Be still, and know that I am God..." Psalm 46:10
Two months ago an article appeared in our local paper. It was actually a devotion that was submitted by my pastor, Dr. Michael LeFebvre. I read a quote from this at a recent conference session that was focused on technology innovations in the classroom.

"A century ago, people thought that technology was going to make life less stressful. I have an old volume on my shelf called Achievements of Americans, published in 1859, that illustrates that optimism. Marvelling at the pace of innovation even then underway, the 19th century writers of that book exclaimed, “invention after invention crowd so thick upon us, that astonishment ... is only equaled by our wonder ... [at] the eventual result of all these ... upon our condition.” The hope was that improved technologies would bring greater harmony and peace to the human condition."

I know that peace and joy are not found in the latest piece of technology, but in the Lord. Teaching is hard work, especially striving to teach with excellence. I taught the topic of energy recently and I was reminded again of some encouraging words that Paul wrote in a letter to the Colossians, "...teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within me." Yes, that is where I want to get my energy. I pray that even though frustration may accompany the learning of anything new, that this article may bring some peace and encouragement to some.

So what is my philosophy/theology of technology? It is part of the dominion mandate in Genesis 1:28. I recently read Foundational Concepts of Christian Education that is on the Geneva College website. It discusses the implication of this for the school, student, curriculum, and discipline. But what is the implication for educational technology? The pros and cons of adopting an innovation ought to be weighed as part of considering the cost. Recognizing the sinfulness of humans, safeguards should be set up to protect and limit wrong use. The key thing to recognize is that technology is not the answer or goal, but is a tool to be rightly used.

The right tool for the right job. My grandfather used to say, "A place for everything and everything in its place."
If you need a tool for a certain job, it is a lot easier to find it if it is where it belongs. We did try to do some organizing of the garage this summer, which is probably why it wasn't too difficult to find these tools pictured on the left. The old pipe wrench actually belonged to my Grandpa Bird. It is large, adjustable to various sizes and provides the mechanical advantage you need to turn a pipe that is really stuck. Now, I don't really know that from personal experience, because I've never needed to loosen or tighten a pipe. But I love it and think it is really cool.

I actually have a slide rule somewhere too. But I've never used that to solve logarithms or get a decimal approximation of a trigonometric value.
Similarly, since I started working at Covenant Christian High School in Indianapolis, I can't remember using a chalk board until the last week when I was helping out an older public school as a math coach. They had recently acquired some great technology and wanted to be encouraged to better utilize it.

Within the past couple of years, my dad got me this handy little socket set. I have had occasion to use some of the ratchets.
It has some nice features. For example, the tool in the middle can act like a typical screw driver when the appropriate tip is put on the end, but it has a ratchet mechanism that can be easily adjusted to tighten or loosen.

Like a four function calculator, this tool cannot do everything. The adjustable monkey wrench on the left wouldn't open to the size of a large pipe. Similarly, you can't easily graph a function on a scientific calculator.

With any interactive white board you should be able to write on in it and save your work, but not all of these tools are designed to particularly enhance the math and science classroom like SMART Notebook Math Tools can. I have enjoyed showing this off at conferences and using this tool in my classroom from the time it was only available as a free download in its beta form. A couple of weeks ago I had a wonderful time showcasing SMART's Math Tools to an outstanding group of middle and high school teachers at a Christian school in Cincinnati.
One thing I especially appreciate about Notebook Math is that it recognizes its limitations and encourages teachers to be aware of the value of graphing calculators and TI emulators. The SMART Notebook on the computers I've used these past several years can be used to launch my TI-Nspire CAS Teacher Software with its built-in TI-SmartView emulator capabilities.

With some tools there is so much power and functionality that you may never use every piece. Even if I took a class to learn about the drill I have on the left, although I would learn more of what the different bits were for, I may not use them again. I really appreciate when a tool is intuitive and many things about it can be figured out without reading many manuals.

The sentiment that the TI-Nspire is intuitive to use has been the general impression I've seen in many students who have been introduced to it. A video that a friend from Scotland is in shows the engagement of the students, the formative assessment capabilities, and many of the other features that are gained by using the Nspire Navigator. I also appreciate that the operating system of the Nspire and Navigator have been improved over the years based on teacher feedback. These updates have come at no additional cost. This tip sheet says that it can take over 30 minutes to update the OS for every device in the classroom, but I've been able to do it many times in less than 5 minutes. The tip sheet is a bit dated, as there are now more ways to improve classroom connectivity.

Sometimes people do not use the best tool for the job. There are many reasons why this is true. If you want to see a variety of tools used for math and science education, the Teachers Teaching with Technology International Conference will be a good place to learn more. This has been one of my favorite conferences of the year.

Monday, August 30, 2010

More on the TI-Nspire Software

Recently on the AP Calculus electronic discussion group the question came up, "What software do you use for generating graphs. For example, for a limits test. How can I generate a graph with removable discontinuities, jumps, etc. Is there a good software program out there for generating graphs?"
There were several replies of programs that use esoteric nomenclature or fancy tricks.
One person replied "I don't have one that works well with piecewise functions (most will handle continuous pw functions with some cajoling and using logical operators (<, <=, >, >=, and, or etc) with Boolean (ie 1 or 0) output, but typically go bonkers when you have discontinuities)... I was just creating a diagram for f(g(x)) where f and g are PW functions for a precal class, and everything I have has come up woefully short (the TI's won't even evaluate Y1(Y2(x)) if you've used the logical operator kluge to get pw functions).
So I'm also all ears if someone has a graphing program that will handle PW functions in a reasonable way."

The most reasonable way I have found to do piecewise functions is with the TI-Nspire. Here was my response with some additional pictures and explanation included:
The TI-Nspire Software may be what you are looking for.
It will do piecewise functions in a very natural way - just like they look in a textbook. There is a math template for piecewise functions. Just press the button (highlighted in red in the first picture on the left) or you can find it in the catalog. The nice thing about the catalog is that it gives a verbal identifier as you can see in the picture on the left.

The Nspire will also do composite functions. You can even change the name of a graph from f1(x) to f(x) and g(x) and let h(x)=f(g(x)). I tested it with a composition of piecewise functions and it worked great too. This was really easy to do. Here is what I did: Open a graph page, arrowed over and deleted the 1 in f1(x) so it would say "f(x)=". Then I press the math template button and filled in the blanks. Next I arrowed down and made it g(x). Finally, I arrowed down one more time and entered h(x)=f(g(x)).

Also with the TI-Nspire CAS you can do many implicit/conics by entering, for example, f1(x)=zeros(x^(2)+y^(2)-25,y)

The graphs look really clean (not large pixels) if you use View > Computer. CTRL J is the shortcut for getting screen shots.

You can download the software that comes free with new purchases of the TI-Nspire Touchpad at
You could also get the TI-Nspire or TI-Nspire CAS Teacher Software for free from a Learn & Earn program

Yesterday in Physics First and in my AP Calculus class we studied the relationship between position, velocity and acceleration with graphs. We collected data with CBR2 motion detectors. Students plugged these into their handhelds and I could also plug it into my computer and begin collecting data automatically with the TI-Nspire Software.
Notice that the labels on the axes were automatically changed from x and y to Dist(m) and Time(s). These labels can be manually changed of deleted entirely.

On a Data & Statistics page the labels are the variable names.

The students then analyzed the graphs with menu > Trace > Graph Trace. It was fun to have the students predict what the corresponding velocity-time graph would look like and use a dynamic Data & Statistics page to easily who what the calculated solution would be. This is easily done by clicking the left side of the screen. I . I also enjoy just pressing tab to quickly change the variable. The default of the motion detector is to measure the distance every 0.05 seconds. At the same time it populates two other columns of data: dc01.vel1 for velocity and dc01.acc1 is the acceleration for data collection trial 1.

This was a graph of a ball rolling up an incline. At first it increased its distance away from the motion detector and then it came back down. The little imperfection near the peak was when it moves a bit horizontally near the top of the incline. Usually I use a nice racquetball but this time a used a larger less perfectly spherical ball we got from this summer's public library reading program. As you can see the acceleration was a component of -9.8m/s^2. Students who have at least had geometry may be able to even figure out what the angle of the incline was. This ball on an incline experiment is outlined at the end of an Xtreme Calculus activity. There is a link to this activity from this site.

From the first time I taught algebra, I've always said that there is now better way for students to develop an understanding of slope than to walk it out and immediately see what kind of graph they are making because of how fast they are moving.

At the end of James Nickels explanation of projectile motion he wrote
"Such is one of the amazing revelations that mathematics gives us about the many nuances of the physics of motion, motion governed by the wisdom of God in Christ (Colossians 1:15-17; 2:1-3). These covenantal laws are treasures that man discovers by investigating the creation order (Proverbs 25:2). Classical physics, founded by men like Galileo, Kepler, and Newton, is a sequence of one fascinating revelation after another. This essay is only one example of these quantitative wonders."

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Why I Nspire? Part 2 - software

I wonder how many of my students' parents read Good House Keeping. It was neat to see the positive review from the experts at the Good Housekeeping Research Institute lab for the kind of technology we are using in my classroom. Also of interest, that I've been meaning to link to, is a news release about the TI-Nspire Touchpad that came out about the time I was in San Diego for the large annual math teacher conference NCTM. Finally, here are answers to the top 10 questions parents ask about graphing calculators.

So back to the topic of ...
Why do I use the TI-Nspire CAS Touchpad in my classroom? Why would a parent want to get the TI-Nspire or TI-Nspire CAS for their child?

2. the SOFTWARE - When you buy a typical graphing calculator, that is all you get - a handheld device that is nice and durable (I wouldn't recommend subjecting it to extreme frigid temperatures). The batteries last a lot longer than a laptop. But if you get the new TI-Nspire, you also get the student software included. A few months ago you would have to buy it separately, retail price close to $100, and I suppose it is still available. But NOW it comes with the software. As TI's website says, it is a 3-for-1.

There are many schools now that are using laptops. I've heard of schools were the underclassmen are getting tablet PCs. The Nspire Student Software would be a perfect fit for this situation because they can use the emulator-like software and then when it comes time to take tests like the AP, PSAT, SAT, etc, then they are familiar and comfortable with the handheld Nspire that works just like the software.

More ways to distribute files
There are a lot of great activities that are ready to use that are available on sites like and Teachers today also have ways to post them to secure school websites. Our school uses edline. I've also heard of schools that use RenWeb and Angel. When students check to see what the assignment is they can also click the tns (Nspire software file) that I have posted. If they are using one of the computers they installed the software on then it will open right up. In addition to the password protected website, our school also has a website where I have posted activities.

Collecting files
These files that students do can be collected or turned in for a grade via email or by sending the files to their handheld. No longer does a student need another piece of software (like TI-Connect for the TI-83/84 or TI-Computer Link for the Nspire). The TI-Nspire Student Software or Teacher Software makes the process of transferring files to a handheld connected to their computer as easy and drag and drop. Files sent to their handheld can be collected from students with TI-Connect-to-Class or with the TI-Nspire Navigator.

Pedagogical benefits
It has been my experience that students with the software explore mathematics more. This is huge! It is the dream of teachers that students would engage with the subject on their own. This additional opportunity to use mathematical technology empowers students to wonder 'what if' and then actually investigate it. I think this is particularly true for the TI-Nspire CAS (computer algebra system - for a comparison to the numeric Nspire check out this link).

It is easier for students to navigator the menu options and 'mouse around' with their computer. With the latest TI-Nspire 2.1 operating system larger files like those found on Math Nspired open so much faster and response with the Touchpad has improved as well, but when you use a computer to explore math and science topics with TI-Nspire technology then everything is extremely fluid and quick to respond.

I also think there are a number of pedagogical benefits of color. Students who use the software enjoy mathematics in color.

Sure there are reasons to use the handheld:
(i) It is useful on high stakes tests where a computer isn't allowed - you wouldn't want students looking things up on the internet or 'phone(text)-a-friend' to find an answer.
(ii) The handheld is useful for easily grading and keeping track of formative assessment when the teacher uses Navigator.
(iii) The handhelds are great for portable data collection with Vernier probes. You can go outside in the snow and use temperature probes or walk around in the hallway to learn about slope with the CBR2. It is nice not to be constrained to a computer.

Another feature of the software that students are likely to use include screen shots for lab reports. Stat
students will enjoy copy pasting data and easily porting it to their handheld. The software enables students to maximize the benefits of multiple representations of split screens. Currently I will not likely often use the computer view on the software for presentations in class or at conferences, but you get a lot more real estate with the smaller font of the software's computer view.

I am excited about so many improved features of the software that came about with the 2.0 OS.
The release notes do a nice job at explaining what new.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Why I Nspire? Part 1

TI-Nspire technology is the most intelligently designed and mathematically enjoyable technology ever developed for the classroom. It has been an important part of my math and science classes for the past 3 years. This will be the first in a series of blog entries that will help to explain why I made the switch to this 21st century technology. So, by request, here is the first installment. Enjoy (even if classroom technology isn't your thing, it may be interesting to see what is out there today ... and why). [Part 2: The software, Part 3: Exam acceptance, Part 4: Math Print, Part 5: The complete summary list]
Why do I use the TI-Nspire CAS Touchpad in my classroom? Why would a parent want to get the TI-Nspire or TI-Nspire CAS for their child? Or even more generally, why should middle school through college teachers and students use graphing calculator technology frequently?

1. RESEARCH shows it to be beneficial (and is not harmful to basic arithmetic skills) to all aspects of mathematical learning.
Independent research firms and major universities have done studies to learn about the effectiveness of graphing calculators on math achievement. Their findings?
-- When teachers incorporate graphing calculators into curriculum more often, and when students have more access to graphing calculators, math achievement increases (1,2).
-- Students who receive instruction using graphing calculators perform as well or significantly better on key math skills(3). Students using graphing calculators during class instruction did as well or better on conceptual, problem solving and operational math skills than those who did not use graphing calculators.
-- Students using graphing calculators during instruction -- but not during assessment -- performed as well or better in all five math skills areas(3), indicating that student math skills did not suffer without calculator use specifically during assessment.
-- Students who use graphing calculators have significantly better attitudes toward math than those who do not use graphing calculators(3).
(1) "Impact of Handheld Graphing Calculator Use on Student Achievement in Beginning Algebra," Heller Research Associates, January 2006
(2) "Effectiveness of Graphing Calculators in K-12 Mathematics Achievement," Empirical Education Incorporated (EEI), November 2005
(3) "A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Calculators on Students' Achievement and Attitude Levels in Precollege Mathematics Classes," Aimee Ellington, November 2003

Update: But what about specific research about the TI-Nspire? Since I first wrote this blog entry more research has been done. You can now find specific experimental research, case studies, qualitative research, and the research basis for the TI-Nspire. There is also research specifically for CAS (computer algebra system). Click the above links over the words to read more.

The following is a quote from another website [with some comments embedded]: "In fact, a substantial body of educational research now indicates that graphing calculators can have significant benefits for mathematics learning. Research shows that students using graphing calculators develop flexible strategies for problem solving and a deeper appreciation of mathematical meaning than students who do not use graphing calculators (Ellington, 2003; Khoju, Jaciw, and Miller, 2005). In addition, students who use graphing calculators are better able to understand variables and functions
[function notation is promoted by the TI-Nspire better than any other device I know. With the TI-81/82/83/84 you would graph y1, y2, but with the Nspire you graph or define f1(x), or even g(x), etc.],
solve algebra problems in applied contexts [There are a large number of these types of problems available on and coming soon there are some great NASA questions and activities with the TI-Nspire],
interpret graphs, and move among varied representations [multiple representation is the hallmark of the TI-Nspire] —that is from graphs to tables to equations—than students who do not have access to the technology....
Research from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) has consistently shown that at the eighth grade level frequent use of calculators is associated with greater mathematics achievement. Moreover, research shows that teachers and students who used graphing calculators most frequently learned the most. On the NAEP assessment, 8th graders whose teachers reported that calculators were used almost every day scored the highest (NCES, 2001). Similarly, in examining an implementation that aligned graphing technology with a comprehensive math curriculum, Heller found that daily use of graphing calculators is more effective than infrequent use (Heller, 2005).
[My 8th grade daughter has been enjoying her TI-Nspire CAS for some time now. It is true that our state end-of-course assessment for algebra doesn't permit the use of CAS, but the TI-Nspire is permitted. The TI-Nspire CAS is allowed on the PSAT, SAT, and AP exams. With the wealth of Math Nspired activities available (and more coming soon) that tackle the tough-to-teach and tough-to-learn topics, I'm certain this research will be even more true today. These activities are easy to use by teachers who do not have just about any experience with the Nspire.]Research shows that the association between frequent graphing calculator use and high achievement holds true for a wide variety of grade levels, socio-economic backgrounds, geographic locations, and mathematical topics (National Center for Education Statistics, 2001; Ellington, 2003)."

Added to all of these general things about graphing calculators, consider also what the TI-Nspire Navigator brings to education. Many schools are considering 'clickers for the classroom' or student response systems. I'm sure there is a lot of research that has been done to show the benefits of the enhanced engagement of students gained with clickers. These clicker systems are typically expensive and limited in their use. However, I've found that for a comparable price, the TI-Nspire Navigator and TI-Nspire handheld are more robust than any clicker system. This Navigator system is versatile at improving documented formative assessment through quick polls were students can enter mathematics in the way that it naturally looks, automatic screen captures, and sending and receiving files. It has enabled me to get feedback from a quiet class and get 100% involvement in the class where one student would often blurt an answer before others had time to think.


Dick, Thomas P. (1996). Much More than a Toy. Graphing Calculators in Secondary school Calculus. In P. Gómez and B. Waits (Eds.), Roles of Calculators in the Classroom pp 31-46). Una Empresa Docente.
Ellington, A. J. (2003). A meta-analysis of the effects of calculators on students' achievement and attitude levels in precollege mathematics classes. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education. 34(5), 433-463.
Heller, J. L., Curtis, D. A., Jaffe, R., & Verboncoeur, C. J. (2005). Impact of handheld graphing calculator use on student achievement in algebra 1: Heller Research Associates.
Khoju, M., Jaciw, A., & Miller, G. I. (2005). Effectiveness of graphing calculators in K-12 mathematics achievement: A systematic review. Palo Alto, CA: Empirical Education, Inc.
National Center for Education Statistics. (2001). The nation’s report card: Mathematics 2000. (No. NCES 2001-571). Washington DC: U.S. Department of Education.
UPDATE April 14, 2011: Thanks to a recent discussion on the Nspire Google Group, I've been made aware of additional research with findings available online. These sites include a detailed mixed method long term study in Scotland and is available at Another pdf files summarizing the finding of teachers in a manner that is approachable to other teachers.
The lead researcher "observed that teachers changed their teaching methods dramatically when using TI-Nspire, both the way they taught each topic and the way they teach in general. They found that the use of the Npires together with a move towards an investigative approach with more opportunity for questioning and discussion led to a deepening in students' understanding, an increased pace of learning and an increase in motivation and engagement across all ability
levels." A brief summary is available here.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Physics First - STEM

This next school year we will be officially starting Physics First. Freshmen will take physics, the foundational science, before they take chemistry and biology. I pray that God will use me to challenge these young students to think Biblically about all their studies. I appreciate the writings of John Byl in my efforts to do this.
Working with freshmen will be different than teaching upperclassman who perhaps have a higher maturity level. I will have high behavior expectation of these students just like they do at the Johnson Space Center (see the poster to the left).

Also I'm excited to see if this can positively impact PSAT scores. Freshmen who are taking geometry may be able to keep some of their algebra skills fresh because of various activities in my class. We will be using the TI-Nspire in class most every day for data collection, explorations, and formative assessment. We have a classroom set of TI-Nspire CAS so that even if students don't have an Nspire yet, they will be ready to participate. I think we'll even use our TI-Nspire Navigator to ask 'class opener' questions from PSAT practice and Indiana's Algebra End-of-Course Assessment (ECA) sampler.

Those students who are concurrently enrolled in algebra should find their education in one class complimented by the other. I know in my undergrad studies I frequently enjoyed learning and applying similar topics in both my mathematics and physics classes. Students who took algebra in 8th grade should find their study in physics to help them keep the algebra skills stronger than if they were doing a science that was more focused on memorization and less on data collection and solving relationships for the unknown. There are also some great NASA activities that I've been working with this summer that I will use in class this next year, including Exploring Space through Math and NASA's Math and Science @ Work for the AP level.

There is a real need for young people to take science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses. For example, a 2009 press release reports that “the current graduation rate from U.S. university electric power engineering programs is not sufficient to meet our nation’s current and future needs.” It goes on to say, "The bad news is that enrollment in electric power and engineering programs are not rising fast enough, and interest in science, math and technology is low in K-12 students. Enrollments are declining in electrical engineering in general. Among students, teachers, guidance counselors and parents, engineering is ranked low on the list of interesting and attainable professions. Furthermore, women are especially underrepresented in the industry and as students."

The following facts were listed at the start of a STEM video found here.
Additionally, recently I came across an article about the top 6 degrees ranked in terms of employment, by Chris Kyle. "Corporate consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas polled 100 human resource professionals to find out what graduating students this year can expect from the job market in 2010, and, specifically, which degrees have the best odds of helping students get jobs....
#5 - Engineering Degree

It might surprise you to learn that engineering degrees are ranked fifth in terms of employment - and not first - but don't start feeling sorry for engineers just yet. According to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, eight of the top 10 best-paid majors are in engineering.

Desirable Degrees:
Biomedical Engineering
Civil Engineering
Electrical Engineering
Mechanical Engineering
Network Engineering and Administration
Programming and Software Engineering

Average Starting Salaries:
Petroleum Engineering: $86,220
Computer Engineering: $60,879
Mechanical Engineering: $58,392"

Of course, the real reason you pursue something isn't for the pay (note: I am a teacher), but because you have a passion for it, because you enjoy it, yea, because you recognize God has given you a talent with it. I recently heard a NASA engineer say, "Most jobs in engineering have higher pay but none are as cool as my job."

Even if you have a gift or talent with something, that doesn't mean it will be the easy for you to do that job all the time. Gifted musicians must practice hard and long. This is true of mathematicians, scientists, teachers, etc. For more about ability and 'talents' read this.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"Under God the People Rule"

This is the official state motto of South Dakota. I came across this as I was looking at the map as we crossed the state on our travels back from an amazing vacation in Wyoming. I was reminded of the Godly dominion spoken of in Genesis 1:28 and Psalm 8:6. Also the motto "Under God the people rule" testifies to His sovereign rule (see Proverbs 21:1, Psalm 96:9Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth! 10Say among the nations, "The LORD reigns!"). There are other states with motto's that reflect our dependence and trust in God. Florida's official motto is the same as the United States motto, "In God We Trust." It was on their state seal since 1868, but it wasn't until July 1, 2006 that it became their official motto. I really like the license plate option we have in Indiana, it is also nice to know that it is constitutional. Ohio's motto "With God All Things are Possible" was, of course, challenged by the ACLU in 1997, but Ohio's motto was shown not to violate the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

The reason we journeyed up to South Dakota was to see the National Parks. I had never been to Mount Rushmore. Aw we were driving there we saw a dark rock. I wondered how they got the name Black Hills. We learned it had nothing to do with the color of this rock, but because of how dark the hills can look with the rich ponderosa pines. Especially when a cloud would come, I clearly understood why they were the Black Hills. We got there just in time for the last park ranger walk of the day. The sun was getting low as the kids worked on the Junior Ranger workbook.

It was a beautiful site, a monument to democracy (that was one of the answers we had a hard time finding in the workbook). Around 9 o'clock they started a lighting ceremony. We soon discovered that they wouldn't turn the lights on until the end of the hour long ceremony. We hadn't reserved a hotel room for the night and we had already been driving all day, so we hit the road before illumination.

Before we left we learned about some great mathematics involved in the construction of Mount Rushmore. They made a model with the scale ratio of 1:12. One foot on the scale model corresponded to 12 feet on the mountain, or as the picture below indicates, 1 inch = 1 foot. This reminds me of an activity I have my students do when they are learning about vectors and, depending on the spring scale they use, 1 newton is set to equal 1 centimeter. Scale comes up in many math classes as well. Similar triangles is taught in geometry and the last year I worked on a cool activity to help students explore a topic in the Prentice Hall Algebra 1 text.
The monument was made using protractors, plumb bob, distance measuring devices (and some explosives). To read more about the mathematical details of Rushmore, check out this site.
Do you get the irony/humor in the picture on the right? ... "Math Rocks!" ... Washington, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Lincoln are rocks. I read that 90% of Americans can't name the faces on Rushmore. After my kids had the interview with a ranger at the end of searching all the exhibits to find answers for the Junior Ranger workbook, I'm certain they will remember which president is which for quite some time.

We have learned so much by doing the Junior Ranger Programs all over the country, including FL, KY, MO, IN, DC, and now SD. Here is a picture of adventures in the past.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


[Update: I have posted a new video to youtube, click here]
Writing a good test is a challenging task. Helping students obey Leviticus 19:11 - "Do not steal, do not lie, do not deceive one another" - can be an even more challenging objective. As teachers, we want to assess what students know so we can help them learn, provide accountability, and see what it is that we need to teach better next time. Therefore it is of no values if a student steals a neighbor's answers and plays it off to be their own work and knowledge.

The TI-Nspire CAS now has an LED. So what is so interesting about that?
Teachers can use the Nspire's built-in Press-to-Test feature to clear out any 'cheat sheets' and make it so that they don't carry all their calculations with them out of the classroom when they leave. For teachers who have a class set of these learning tools, they would probably prefer for all the answers to NOT be on the screen when the next student comes in and gets their graphing calculator.
This becomes an even more important issue with the new Scratchpad Calculator and Graph. The only easy way to clear Scratchpads and current document is to use Press-to-Test.

Here are pictures of the LED blinking. These videos will be linked to in a powerpoint (4MB) that explains how to use Press-to-Test.
video video video
With the TI-Nspire Navigator or TI-Nspire Teacher Software, use Transfer Tool (end class if needed) to send "Exit Test Mode.tns" (this can be a blank tns that is called Exit Test Mode) to the Press-to-Test folder.
1. Click ‘Add to Transfer List’ and find Exit Test Mode.tns
2. Click that file, then click the ‘Edit destination Folder’ field
3. Click the ‘Change’ button and then ‘Start Transfer’.

For more details, check out the Press-to-Test Guidebook. Similarly you can use the TI-Nspire Computer Link software to transfer any file called "Exit Test Mode" to the "Press-to-Test" folder.

Update regarding the TI-84: To enter Press-to-Test hold down both left and right arrows while you press ON. With OS2.55MP and 2.56 (when the 84 keypad is on the Nspire), there is now the ability to disable logbase() and summation.

See this link for 84 screen shots and explanation.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Job Well Done

Ecclesiastes 7:8 "The end of a matter is better than its beginning."
Covenant Christian High School just held their graduation ceremony. Another wonderful group of seniors have completed their K-12 education. Congratulations to a job well done!
With the end of one task often comes the beginning of another. But it is pleasant to pause and rejoice. I am excited for what these students will accomplish as they go on to schools like Rose Hulman, University of Chicago, Purdue, IU, Kettering and many more.

Similarly, as I am looking forward to and preparing for an amazing summer of workshops, conferences, and travel, it is good to reflect on the tasks completed. I praise God for seeing me through, sustaining my family, and giving me added means to provide for them.

The biggest project that started for me last summer with a trip to Boston was the
Pearson Prentice Hall - Texas Instrument project.
I worked with an all-star group to make every lesson from three textbooks come alive. The link has a few of the tns files and video to see what the Pearson and TI authors created through this unique partnership. We worked hand in hand (virtually speaking) through web conferencing and video chat. Thanks to the innovation of our project manager, Google documents was used as great resource to keep track of the schedule and the most recent files. Through the extensive hours of working on this project I felt encouraged by our leader, editor, fellow TI authors and especially by Bill, the Pearson/Prentice Hall author I worked most closely with. We would often look at the textbook together, discuss what could be done so the students would be more engaged, I would create something, we'd chat about any improvements that could be made, and in the end Bill would exclaim how delighted he was that his vision of a truly interactive textbook that the students could carry with them anywhere was coming to fruition.

When we finished the last section of the last chapter of these textbooks back in March, it was a day of great rejoicing. But then it was time to get back to grading papers and preparing students to do the best they could on AP Calculus and Physics exams. Well, now the last papers are graded, recorded and exported. Students are on break for the summer. And I'm going to have a great Memorial Day with two of my favorite veterans: my dad who served as a corpsman in Vietnam and my grandfather who has some great jungle and Alaska stories from WWII.
I just read an explanation for corpsman -- "coreman" -- A U.S. Navy enlisted "hospitalman" assigned to provide medical care in Marine Corps units, Navy hospitals and hospital ships. Virtually all corpsmen were nicknamed "Doc." These guys were the Marine equivalent of Army "medics" and a good corpsman was worth his weight in gold in the bush. Not only did they provide routine medical care far from the nearest doctor, but if you were wounded they kept you alive until a medevac chopper could get you to a hospital. During MEDCAPs, they also provided the only medical care most of our Vietnamese villagers ever experienced.

On this Memorial Day, congratulations and thank you goes out especially to our veterans.

Monday, March 8, 2010

TI-Nspire Touchpad and OS2.0 update

So what is different with the new OS2.0 that works on TI-Nspire CAS, TI-Nspire, and on the new TI-Nspire Touchpad and TI-Nspire CAS Touchpad handheld shown on the left? I just got back from a great conference in Atlanta, the Teachers Teaching with Technology International Conference where I traded in the classic Clickpad model for the improved Touchpad. The rest of this review applies to whatever Nspire handheld you have, but first why might you be interested in getting the new handheld:
1. It looks good. Yea, it is downright beautiful.
2. The Touchpad makes it easier to move the cursor. You can mouse around quickly with a large swipe or make small movements with a short swipe or make small discrete movements using click left, right, up and down.
3. The alpha key layout is easier to use and has a great feel when you press down on a key. This will be especially appreciated by those who use TI-Nspire Navigator (updated to v1.1) to answer open-response questions. People with larger fingers will also be thankful for this. The raised green buttons on the clickpad were cute, but for some they were annoying.
4. It now has the LED for visual acknowledgment of Press-to-Test. (I need to update this PTT ppt to include that info.)
5. You can use rechargeable batteries that should last 3 years. You can recharge them in several ways: plug it into a USB of your computer (in fact with this OS any handheld will run off the USB instead of the AAA batteries - Wow, I just used an Nspire that didn't have any batteries in it using 1st the USB and then the Navigator cradle. It worked great.), slide on the Navigator cradle, and ... I need to wait until goes live to confirm the other method. We got this link on a handout at the T^3 conference about the rechargeable batteries.
6. Notice also the improved key layout and labels. People will call a certain button with an up arrow "shift" instead of "CAPS". My daughter commented that she likes the toggle for + - and multiply & divide. It definitely looks like there are fewer buttons; less to be afraid of. A "trig" button replaced three trigonometric buttons and will save a number of early algebra students from wondering was 'sin' they will commit if they press the button for sine. Those who use trig functions will more easily access secant, inverse cotangent and the like.

Now, on to what is new and true with OS2.0 regardless of your model ...
Let me start with Tools:
ctrl home is no longer Tools. It is now called "doc" or "Documents". Looking in there you can find several new things. (Note: You cannot access ctrl home from the new home screen. Navigator and Connect-to-Class users will be glad to know that you can log in from Settings. I told my students who asked today, "Press 5, 5 from the home screen.)

By popular demand you can now close a document. This can be done in three ways that are all quite similar to a computer.
i) Under doc, File, Close
ii) For those who know and love their short cuts, ctrl W works :)
iii) Notice the X in the upper right hand corner of the screen. Yep, that will work to close it. Move the cursor (with the new touch pad) up there and press click. (Now you can tap the touch pad in order click if you set it for that. From the home screen press 5 for settings, look in handheld settings. I like the tap. The left click under the touch pad on my computer hasn't worked faithfully for some time, so I've become a tapper.)

The emulator is a much more complete emulator. Settings can be changed. Now ctrl click works for grabbing points, lines and other objects. Moving around the screen is so much faster using the same type of method students use.

On to G&G. No longer is it Graphs & Geometry; now it is Graphs and Geometry. They are divided for ease of opening. If you want the Geometry View, you do not need to first open up G&G, press menu, View, Geometry View. Now it is just there are ready for use.

After graphing a function, you may have used ctrl T as a shortcut to see the table of values for that graph. You could find the reminder for that shortcut when you are on a G&G by pressing menu, View (look toward the bottom as shown in the image). Now you can hide the table. Make sure you have the graph screen selected and not the table part of the split screen. The press ctrl T or menu, View, Hide Table.

Actually, I've found that removing a page or reducing a split screen from 3 to 2 or 2 to 1, etc, is a lot faster. Select the application to removed using ctrl K and press delete/backspace.

Let's talk about the new menu option on G&G - Analyze. I think this will help TI-83/84 users feel more at home when they wonder how do I graphically find the zeros, maximum, minimum, intersection, derivative, or integral. Note: Using this method you will only find one at a time. (There were, of course, great methods to find these things before. Integral is no longer under menu > Measurement, but slope is. You can still use menu > Points & Lines > Tangent, to put a tangent line on a graph and then find the slope of that to get the derivative at a point. Max, min, and zeros can still be found by menu > Trace > Graph Trace. As long as "Automatically find points of interest" is checked off on home > Settings > Graphs & Geometry. Press enter on that point of interest and the point will 'drop' with the coordinates left behind.)
Tracing is also improved. Try graphing f1(x)=(x^3+4*x^2+x-6)/(x+3), then press menu > Trace > Graph Trace, and type in -3.

Notes are now INTERACTIVE too! We may refer to it as Interactive Notes. I posted a few examples of who this has made life better on the Nspire google group - see link below.

In my next blog entry I'll add some more info and let you know about the next events where teachers and students majoring in education can attend to trade-in one of their old TI-Nspire or TI-Nspire CAS handhelds. What else would you like to hear about?

Read more for yourself in the Release Notes (2.2MB). If you are a teacher, join the discussion on

Monday, February 15, 2010

MathPrint on the TI-84

UPDATE 1/11/11: The release notes for the new TI-84 OS 2.55MP are now posted on a TI website. Also OS2.53MP info is posted there too. In case you didn't update in the past year, you can now enjoy 'wizards' for many of the statistics capabilities AND MathPrint. After trying out MathPrint, if you decide you really missed all the parentheses you got with square roots and the carat for exponents, or if you don't like the scrolling left/right lines as much as you enjoyed wrapping, you can always change modes to Classic. This way you will still enjoy the benefit of fraction math and scrolling history that the new operating systems give you.

It has been awhile since I've written a post here. It has been a busy year with teaching, family, and a big project. My wife has kept up recording the interesting family events.

For the first time in all my years of teaching, this semester I have a TA. Billy is a great teaching assistant. For the benefit of teachers and students who still use the TI-84 Plus (he and I enjoy the TI-Nspire CAS handheld and software) he has grabbed a bunch of screen shots for the new operating system using TI-Connect . Several wildly popular features that have been native to the TI-Nspire for the past 3 years, have now made their way on to the 84. On the TI-89 that I used to teach calculus with, there was what was referred to as "Pretty Print" on the output. You would enter an expression with weird syntax and many parentheses, but you could check that you entered what you wanted once you were finished.

The new operating system OS 2.53 MP [update: On January 10, 2011 OS2.55MP came out] brings the feature of MathPrint (TM) to the 84. Students will make fewer mistakes on homework and those important end-of-the-year exams, because what they enter looks like what is in the textbook or their homework paper. Students tend to enter calculations one step at a time and then they don't know where they went wrong. If they want to do a complicated calculation they would do well to enter it on their handheld technology - whether it be a TI-84 or Nspire - the way that it looks on their paper. Another new feature is, instead of pressing 2nd ENTER to review the last 10 entries, they can now arrow up around 30 entries. If they press enter on the selected number or calculation, this will be copied down so it can be edited or reused.The above screen shows some calculations that my students have done in the past. The first is to find the acceleration of a penny that is 18 cm from the center of a record that is spinning at 33 1/3 rpm. Notice that this is highlighted. If I press enter, then I could easily change it to be 45 rpm, or I could change it to a penny that is closer in (since vinyl albums actually have a radius a bit smaller than 18cm) . I love that the square root radically (pun intended) goes over everything that it is supposed to. The second calculation shows the amount of time it takes if I take that penny and drop it off the roof of our school 5.2 m above the ground. It is easy enough to change it and see how long it would take, ignoring air resistance, if this was dropped from the top of the Burj Dubai (828m), or we could change the 9.8m/s^2 to the acceleration of gravity on another planet.

Calculus teachers will particularly enjoy MathPrint because they won't need to spend the time teaching an unusual syntax like d(e^3x,x,5). Derivative at a point uses Leibniz's notation and the 'such that' vertical bar followed by the point for the derivative to be numerically evaluated. The definite integral is another example of MathPrint making the entering of a calculation more intuitive. Here are a series of screen shots that demonstrate an effective way to find the intersection, area between curves, and volume by rotation. Notice that MathPrint is supported in Y=.

Besides using the shortcut, of which there is a reminder every time the 84 is turned on, many of the features can be accessed through the MATH button, or MATH then NUM. If for some reason users preferred the classic view, there is now a second screen under MODE were MathPrint can be unselected. Also note that if mixed fractions are preferred they can be chosen. (Hey, fractions are now supported in the tables, lists, matrices, and window zoom.) I like that there is a central location for Stat Diagnostics to be turned on and another way to get to the Graph Screen Formatting.

All of the current apps (that I know of) are unaffected and still work except for Catalog Help. Be sure to download and install this using TI-Connect. The new OS 2.53MP is available under downloads at

Teachers will want to put these on their TI-84 SmartView emulator so that what they do in front of the class matches what the students see. This is done by pressing File>Load File ... (as show on the left) then just find the OS (pay attention to where you save what you download). You don't want to throw away those silver cables. These come in handy for using the CBR with the 84 SmartView. However you won't need it to update the OS when using the TI-84 faceplate on the TI-Nspire. Updating the Nspire will automatically update the 84 mode.

These pleasant new features are not available on the TI-83. Again, to update the TI-Nspire that is in 84 mode, all you need to do is update the TI-Nspire (which leads us to believe that a new Nspire OS will be coming soon).

Stay tuned for all the impressive new features for the TI-Nspire & TI-Nspire CAS that make that device even more intuitive for new users. Current users will enjoy how their requests have been listened to in many ways. These educational tools really have continued to improve to meet the needs to teachers and students.

Lord, may how we teach and the tools we use
be filled with a beauty of design
that reflects the Creator of the universe
and the image of Him in whom we've been made (Gen 5:1).

May we use technology more effectively for the improved education of students.