Why EdTech Should Be More TI-83, Less iPad

ti-83 calculator and cover

I used a TI-83 during my high school years and it was one of those devices students know they probably shouldn’t be using in class. That’s because you could program games into the calculator and then spend the majority of class time mastering those games while looking like you were seriously working through some complex math.

The TI-83 holds a special place in every student’s heart from my generation. The iPad didn’t exist and wireless computing didn’t either. We had a computer lab filled with ancient Macs that needed about 10 minutes to start and a full-time staff to run. The TI-83 felt like the future in the palm of your hand, though.

old college computer lab

Source: Oregon State University Archive

That’s because it was portable and still had the computing power to run complex programs with ease. That is, of course, until the batteries ran out and you had to beg your neighbor for some. Oh, what I would have given for the ability to charge my calculator in a standard electrical outlet in the wall!

In any case, my love for the TI-83 knows no bounds and I never got ride of it. It still lives in my desk back at my parent’s house. The same desk I spent countless hours trying to focus on homework but instead resorting to programming my calculator to make something that would entertain and impress my friends back at school.

There’s something special about the TI-83. It has just the right amount of technological power and doesn’t go so far as to always distracting you.

ipad ios 7Not like the iPad.

That device is an entirely different beast and it’s capable of just about anything. It lets students have video chats, play elaborate games, and view enhanced digital textbooks. That’s all wonderful, to be sure.

I worry, however, that all current and future students will not have the kind of ‘tinkering’ experience that I had with the TI-83. I taught myself a couple programming languages and learned statistics, trigonometry, and algebra thanks to that calculator. All my friends became amateur programmers because of the device as well.

I doubt the same number of students will learn to ‘tinker’ with their iPad and become amateur programmers so they can get even more out of their iPad. It’s of course quite possible to learn how to program and even build your own iOS app. But the iPad and other high-tech devices don’t lend themselves to tinkering like the then-high-powered calculators.

See Also: The Evolution Of Classroom Technology

What would happen if you actually banned all iPads and other high-tech devices and, instead, only allowed TI-83 calculators in a school or classroom?

Would students be forced to entertain themselves using the now-dated calculator? Probably not, considering there’s an iPad available as soon as a student gets home or outside the classroom. The calculator would likely sit unused until a student was forced to interact with it the following school day.

I guess I answered my own question and also presume this post is simply a walk down memory lane for most of us. In any case, it was inspired by this post in The Atlantic that goes into a lot more detail about how edtech should be more like the TI-83 calculator and less like the Apple iPad. It’s definitely some recommended readiing!