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Families and technology--Calculators and software

Before school starts each fall many parents may feel like they need to purchase their children expensive calculators to use in mathematics and science courses. Many popular calculators are more powerful than are really needed in most high school classes. For example, some contain computer algebra systems (CAS) that are often inappropriate for students in their first 2-3 years of high school, and standardized exams such as the ACT even prohibit students from using these particular models. This list of questions will help you think about the issues you may want to address with parents about technology:


Your school and class needs:

  • Does your course require a calculator for use at school?
  • Do you have a class set available? If so, what type?
  • What functions should students have available on their calculators—e.g., graphing, trig?
  • Are there any styles inappropriate for your course?
  • Are there funds available for batteries?

Home needs:

  • Will students need a calculator at home?
  • What types would be acceptable? Would a basic 4-function calculator be sufficient?
  • Are there any kinds you recommend to parents? Any that you would not recommend?
  • Should you consider sending an early memo out to parents on this issue? Remember that many families take advantage of summer before-school sales.
  • Do you want to ask parents to help with batteries for the classroom calculators?


  • Are there any programs your class will use often (like Geometer's Sketchpad or Fathom)?
  • Does the school have these available in a lab or a library for students to use before or after school, or during study periods?

If parents are interested in purchasing these programs for their children, you might want to let them know about special student rates that are often available through the manufacturers' websites. (See keymath.com).