Thursday, February 14, 2008

Calculator programming

While covering the quadratic formula with my 8th grade algebra students, I decided to show them how to program their calculator to do the quadratic formula. Students had a surprisingly strong response to it. They loved it.

Certainly they love the power of having the quadratic formula in their calculator. And their may be less chance that they will memorize the quadratic formula because they don't have to do it as often as they would have had to if I hadn't given them the formula. But it was a great way to discuss the ideas of input and output. I drew a function machine on the board, and we discussed how other machines can be seen as functions. So this connects this fundamental mathematical concept of function for them to their lives, and it allows them a way to construct a function of their own. We did a problem of finding how long it takes for an object to fall a certain distance. Students really started to get it.

In fact, after we programmed that we wrote a program to find the vertex, both the x and y coordinates. This was great for them because it emphasized that this process of writing a computer (calculator) program is really whatever you want. Got a process that you are doing over and over then make a program. I also indicated that these two separate programs might be merged together to create a bigger more complex program that could do both things. Other teachers told me later that the students were still talking about it several periods later.

On the technology side, it really helps to do this with a smartboard and TI-smartview. I was asked so rarely about what did I type or where that button is on the calculator. It is such a relief to have these tools.

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