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Will I need a Calculator for Calculus?

  1. Aug 10, 2013 #1
    I am starting college Calculus this semester (have not taken Calculus before) and I have been working through Spivak Calculus (on Chapter 2). Monday I will be purchasing the course text (obviously not Spivak) and have not had a chance to look through it.

    Will I need a graphing calculator for my Calculus course? I don't recall using much more than a basic scientific one for large numbers in Pre-Calc but I wasn't sure if I needed to spend the extra money to buy one. I ask this because I would prefer to save the additional money for living expenses if its unnecessary.

    I am completely ignorant about it.

    Thanks for your time :)
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 10, 2013 #2


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    Homework Helper

    I think they are quite useful. If you spend 100$ and use it for 100 months that is 1$/month. Then again maybe you like doing .23981009823*.732143103 by hand and know what the graph of sin(x)sin(1/x) looks like. As far as your class goes I do not know what it involves. Maybe you will be assigned exercises like approximate so and so to five digits and maybe not.
  4. Aug 10, 2013 #3
    I have never needed a graphing calculator in calculus or in my whole life. A usual calculator will do.
  5. Aug 10, 2013 #4
    Graphing calculators are actually prohibited in my experience. I am sure you'll do fine with a scientific calculator.
  6. Aug 11, 2013 #5
    depends on the course. at my university calculators weren't permitted at all, nor were they necessary
  7. Aug 11, 2013 #6
    No, you probably won't. But having a grapher is quite handy. There are a number of android apps (free) for graphing that I can recommend: Mathally grapher (can graph equations in two var.);
    MePlot free(3-D graphs-the 2-d graphs are below par); math grapher (can animate parameters and plot parametric graphs). But this all is assuming you do have an android based phone/tablet.....
  8. Aug 11, 2013 #7


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    Staff: Mentor

    Ask your instructor or someone in the math department, or look at the school's web site to see if it has an information page about the course. Some places teach calculus in a way that requires students to have a graphing calculator for exercises or in-class activities.
  9. Aug 11, 2013 #8
    I am about to finish my undergrad in math and never touched a graphing calculator once in over four years. Not to mention they aren't allowed on tests... I see absolutely no use for a graphing calculator in calculus... whatsoever. Especially now that the internet and wolfram exists for your assignments.
  10. Aug 11, 2013 #9

    George Jones

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    This is at your school. As jtbell wrote, some schools require students to have graphing calculators, even though these aren't allowed on tests and exams.
  11. Aug 11, 2013 #10


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    Education Advisor

    I've been wondering this lately as well. I have a TI84+, because a graphing calculator was a requirement for my college algebra class. There were a lot of problems that were specifically geared towards calculators. I've contemplated upgrading to a TI89 or a Nspire CX CAS, just for the simplicity of having a computer algebra system, but I really don't think I'm going to. I honestly rarely find myself even using my calculator for its graphing capabilities. I generally just use it for doing tedious multiplication and division like .058396739 x .18743823 or something equally enjoyable. I do most of the arithmetic in my head anymore though.
  12. Aug 11, 2013 #11
    Certainly he should review the syllabi at the school, but I think my assessment is quite reasonable.
  13. Aug 11, 2013 #12


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    ^My quite reasonable assessment is that if your mathematics classes do not require calculators or computers they are quite worthless. The only way that is possible is if the exercises are trivial. Persons with the misfortune of taking such a worthless class should learn the omitted material on their own, submit a complaint in writing to the department for educational malpractice, and demand a refund. It is not 1912 anymore.
  14. Aug 11, 2013 #13
    So I guess you hate classes that actually focus on conceptual understanding and not just pushing buttons on a calculator...
  15. Aug 11, 2013 #14


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    This has been one of my concerns. I've pondered purchasing a TI89 or a Nspire, but I'm worried that I'd end up using the CAS too often, and not really get a solid understanding of a lot of the concepts. I have a TI84, and I really use it very little for it's actual graphing capabilities. The only reason I got it is because it was required for my college algebra class.

    I think I'm going to pass on getting a new calculator. I'd rather actually know the material.
  16. Aug 11, 2013 #15
    You can both understand the concepts and use a calculator. Just don't depend on the calculator. A CAS and a calculator are useful tools if used wisely.
  17. Aug 11, 2013 #16


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    So I guess you hate classes that actually focus on conceptual understanding and not just performing calculations by hand...

    The purpose of computation is insight, not numbers.
    — Richard Hamming

    Doing many tedious hand calculations does not focus on conceptual understanding. Quite the opposite. We may bucket calculus exercises as follows.

    1) Those for which a calculator may be helpful for calculation or confirmation, but does not help conceptually.
    2) Those that are easier with a calculator and possible but tedious without.
    3) Those that are impractical without a calculator.

    I do not understand what those technophobic teachers are trying to achieve. If they assign mostly type 1 they need not forbid (they have no authority to forbid anything anyway but that is another issue) calculators. At the same time they can assign no type 3 which is a disservice to their students who could learn a lot from them. The only reason to ban calculators is to focus on type 2. This is foolish as it is intentionally inefficient. A good assortment of the three types should be assigned.
  18. Aug 11, 2013 #17
    Im loving this debate on calculators and calculus. Ferreal. As recommended by a few, I will ask my teacher whether or not she recommends or requires one (once class starts) and then I can use that information to determine whether or not I personally require one. Massive group hug!

    Thanks PF Squad!
  19. Aug 11, 2013 #18
    I do not believe a calculator has much of a place in a calculus course. If they want to emphasize a more serious software package such as mathematica, I would find that much more appropriate.
  20. Aug 11, 2013 #19
    This was a discussion about GRAPHING calculators, not just calculators. We're not discussing whether it's a pro or con to start using long division and other redundant arithmetic... But sure yeah, i'll start working on my refund. God only knows the "misfortune" I had in not using a graphing programmable calculator for things like number theory, group theory, analysis etc.
  21. Aug 11, 2013 #20


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    Lol the argument here is ridiculous to the point of being comical and completely unnecessary. OP, if your classes require a graphing calculator then you have to get one and if they don't then you don't have to get one, simple as that.
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