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Do I need Mathematica or a CAS graphing calculator?

  1. Aug 4, 2015 #1
    Hello Everyone. I'm returning to college to earn a degree in physics 15 years after getting a BA in English. I took calculus almost 20 years ago and used a Ti 85. I've noticed that some graphing calculators have CAS integrated, which I've never used, and I'm keen to get one for my physics and math courses. I've also heard some amazing things about mathematica, about which I know almost nothing except that it's an obviously vastly more powerful tool than a CAS graphing calculator. My question is this: is there any reason for someone to own mathematica instead of a CAS calculator if the goal is to do nothing higher than undergraduate work in physics/math and to eventually be a math and/or physics high school teacher? I appreciate your help and insights. Thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 4, 2015 #2
    Mma can be a powerful tool. Many math and physics departments have policies that allow/dis-allow its use. The authorized resources drive decision making for most student purposes. Some departments are split and allow MMa for some courses and not for others.

    Graphing calculators are more likely to be authorized resources, but they are much less powerful.
  4. Aug 4, 2015 #3
    Thank you
  5. Aug 4, 2015 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    You could consider Freemat. It's a simple and free clone of matlab and supports plotting. It doesn't have CAS functionality though.

    The TI-89 has CAS support.

    There are also some iPad apps that supporting plotting and CAS too.

  6. Aug 4, 2015 #5
    Thank you very much!
  7. Aug 4, 2015 #6


    Staff: Mentor

  8. Aug 5, 2015 #7


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    Gold Member

    Well, your Ti-85 is still up to the task of being an adequate calculator for your undergraduate studies. However, if your goal is to teach after you graduate, you should certainly consider buying a more recent and updated (not necessarily better) calculator so that once you start teaching, you can help your students with their calculator as well (of course, high end calculators may be passé by then). Your Ti-85 has no current equivalent calculator available ie no current HS student has anything similar.
    You can downgrade to an Ti-84 (with its built in apps, it is supposedly better) or upgrade to a Ti-89 (has CAS) or a Ti-Nspire (Several flavors, one with CAS, one without, both with or without Color screens as well). I myself would favor the Ti-89, but a future teacher should give the Nspire some consideration. As you already have a good calculator, you might consider using an App on a tablet for your math or getting a student version of a math package when you actually need to buy one (I would even suggest Mathcad myself, as it may be nicer for report writing or consider Smath a clone of Mathcad).
    On another note, you might consider buying a $20 pocket calculator such as the Ti-36 pro. It is nice calculator that has lots of features for a budget price. It would certainly be allowed where a class might ban graphing calculators.
    If you are looking for the best calculator for physics, you should consider an Hp 50G. However, the Ti-89 is comparable.
  9. Aug 5, 2015 #8


    Staff: Mentor

    I think a future teacher should spring for an iPad as it would prove useful for class management, subject research, class magic tricks...
  10. Aug 11, 2015 #9
    Consider using open source Sage.
  11. Jun 10, 2016 #10
    A practical concern is what's allowed on your exams. It's unlikely you can bring in an iPad or notebook with Mathematica. Meanwhile, if CAS calculators are allowed, they can help you do all kinds of symbolic (or numerical) integration/differentiation/matrix work.
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