Calculators in NIU Math Courses

Here are some tips for students about selecting and using calculators in courses in the Department of Mathematical Sciences. In addition to the comments for specific courses, you should also take a look at the frequently-asked questions section, especially if you intend to take several math courses at NIU.

*Note that individual instructors may set policies slightly different
from what is listed below, in order to match the instructor's teaching
techniques.*

**Math 101:**
A hand calculator which can do basic arithmetic, exponents (a
"*y ^{x}*" key), and square roots is required. A calculator with
parentheses is recommended. You may wish to avoid calculators which can
display answers in a format which you don't understand
(e.g. complex numbers) to avoid confusion. A calculator which can
perform some financial functions may be useful but is not required (and
may be more confusing than helpful!)

**Math 108-9:**
Calculators are allowed for Math 108 except for the Basic Skills Test;
they are required for Math 109. You will be expected to learn to
distinguish situations in which the calculator is helpful and when it is not.
Remember that you are taking this course only to cement your basic
algebra skills. This largely means spending a lot of time practicing
the skills by hand until they feel very natural. Your calculator
doesn't need the practice.

**Math 110P:**
This is the two-semester version of Math 110 (below). Part of the
additional time is used to explore the uses of a graphing
calculator. You will be expected to learn to carry out specific
calculator tasks in addition to the ordinary Math 110 material. Part
of the final exam will test this additional material, so the graphing
calculator is required.

**Math 110:**
No particular calculator is required. You will not be allowed to use
a calculator for hour exams or on the final exam. You are welcome to
use a scientific or graphing calculator to help you understand the
concepts and to check your homework; but it is one of the primary
goals of this course to enable you to accurately and quickly work out
algebraic manipulations by hand and with understanding.

**Math 155:**
A scientific calculator is required for this course. You will need
to be able to use it to compute the numerical values of trigonometric and
exponential functions and their inverses; you will also be expected
to know a few exact values of these (e.g. the cosine of 0) without
using a calculator. You will be expected to be able to sketch by
hand the graphs of some of these functions; you might find it helpful
to be able to compare your answer to the display on a graphing
calculator but of course you will have to demonstrate your understanding
of this at least occasionally on exams where these calculators are
forbidden.

**Math 201:**
At various times you will need a simple calculator (as well as other
tools common in an elementary-school classroom such as scissors, ruler,
and markers). You will also be expected to explain aspects of what is
displayed on the calculator.

**Math 206:**
No calculator is required but an engineering calculator capable of
representing numbers in binary or hexadecimal may be helpful.

**Math 210:**
A hand calculator which can do basic arithmetic and exponents (a
"*y ^{x}*" key) is required. During the course you will
spend a fair amount of time working with graphs of straight lines in
the plane, and with combinatorial functions such as the factorial
function ("

**Math 211:**
A four-function calculator is sufficient but probably unnecessary,
since students should not take this course without confidence in their
skills manipulating fractions and algebraic expressions; tests will
reflect this assumption. One portion of the course introduces the
logarithm and exponential functions; you can gain familiarity with
these functions if you have a scientific calculator or a graphing
calculator, but you will be expected to demonstrate a basic by-hand
understanding of these functions on the tests. No trigonometry is
used and there is no reason to have trig functions on your calculator.

**Math 229:**
A graphing calculator is required for the course, as most assignments
will include some problems for which the calculator is intended to be
used. The 'zoom' and 'trace' features can be especially useful to
help clarify the importance of the derivative.
A symbolic calculator can be helpful in checking your homework but
thorough facility with algebra is assumed before beginning this course.
You may prefer a calculator which can be programmed for one or two
specific algorithmic topics in this course.
The exams will largely test concepts and there are typically some
exams, or parts of some exams, on which graphing calculators will not
be permitted.

**Math 230:**
A graphing calculator is expected, and students may be asked to bring
the calculator for certain classroom presentations. Some of the
exercises involve lengthy algebraic manipulations, and students may
prefer to have a symbolic calculator which can check their algebra.
During exams, students will be asked to show the steps on simpler
examples, and these calculators will not be permitted.

**Math 232:**
No calculators are particularly recommended. Students with access to
three-dimensional graphing software may find that it can assist
with visualization.

For most courses past calculus (Math232), there is little emphasis on computations more complicated than integer arithmetic. Calculators will typically be neither required nor forbidden. Students are expected to be comfortable with whatever blend of hand- and technological methods they use to carry out routine computations. Students who prefer to have access to calculators should ask their instructor whether there is any restriction on their use during the exams in these courses. Among courses at this level, only the exceptions are noted below.

**Math 240:**
This course is very explicitly oriented away from computational matters.
Students might prefer to have access to calculators which can solve
systems of linear equations and manipulate small matrices, in order
to check their homework, but these will not be allowed on exams.

**Math 336:**
A graphing calculator is recommended but not necessary. (*Note:* We are
investigating the use of good visualization and numerical software for
future semesters.)

**Math 339:**
A scientific or graphing calculator is expected; calculators which can
handle functions of a complex variable are preferred.

**Math 360:**
A four-function calculator is expected but not typically necessary.
Basic statistical features and/or linear-algebra facilities can be
helpful. Spreadsheets and related software will be needed for
projects (not exams); popular products are available in the
computer labs for student use.

**Mathematics Education methods courses and clinicals (Math 401-416):**
Students must have and be familiar with the use of calculators which
are appropriate for the grade level under study, as well as other
technologies useful in the classroom.

**Math 434-435**
Calculators may be useful for experimentation but students are expected
to use computer software such as Matlab to develop and use algorithms
for solving problems numerically. Programming in Fortran or C is a
prerequisite for this course.

**Math 444**
A four-function calculator is sufficient for classroom use. Students
will be expected to use demonstration software which accompanies the text.
Access to other optimization software is not required but may be helpful.

**Statistics**
For courses in Statistics, contact the Division of Statistics.

**Why do we need calculators?**
The courses in our department focus on the theory, application, and
presentation of mathematics, and are not specifically designed to enable you
to use a calculator. Nonetheless, we often suggest or insist that you
buy a calculator because we believe it will help you learn better.
We want you to interact with it to try pertinent
examples which will help you learn ideas better; we want to give you
more realistic applications involving very large numbers or many digits
of accuracy; and we want to allow you to focus on the
analysis of your problems without having to grind through calculations
you have already practiced for a long time. On the other hand, we
don't want you to think that mathematics consists *only* of
grinding out computations, and we don't want to deny you the practice with
skills you'll need later; so we often insist you work things by hand, in steps,
and explain what you have learned.

**How will we use calculators?**
Calculators and other electronic devices will often be used for
classroom demonstrations if the instructor can use the demonstration
to motivate or clarify a concept. Students are encouraged to experiment
with their own calculators at home to further explore the patterns
and ideas suggested. Your instructor may also suggest or require that
you bring your calculator to class for precisely this purpose.
Finally, calculators will be used to enable the student to work with
more interesting examples.

Please remember that your goal as a student in the class is not to mimic what the calculator does (which is pointless!) but to understand what it is doing and what the underlying ideas are. In particular, during exams we will usually prohibit the use of calculators from which you could simply copy an answer, just as we generally prohibit the use of books or notes from which you could simply copy answers.

**Do I have to buy a particular calculator?**
Maybe. Consider your circumstances, and contact the department if you're
not sure.

It will often be sufficient that you have access to an appropriate calculator, perhaps borrowed from a friend. However, please anticipate the possibility that the borrowed calculator may not be available at an important moment (such as during finals week!). Most of the calculators that students are expected to have in pre-calculus courses are inexpensive; you might consider buying your own.

The Department of Mathematical Sciences does not require or endorse a specific brand of calculator, so if you are required to select a particular brand of calculator for a course outside our department, feel free to do so as long as it has the right features for your math courses.

There are special-purpose and advanced calculators on the market. These will generally be of little use in your mathematics courses. If you have access to a personal computer, you might find your money better spent buying educational or graphing software which is easier to see and manipulate on a larger machine.

Students who expect to take multiple mathematical sciences courses may find that different calculators are required for them. If you know which math courses you plan to take at NIU, it should be possible to make do with a single calculator, or at worst a simple one (under 20 dollars) plus a graphing calculator.

**What should I do when I get my calculator?**
Remember that, like any tool, the calculator is only useful if you
know how to use it. If you purchase a deluxe calculator, plan on spending
a good deal of time experimenting with its features *before* you
need them for a class. Keep your calculator's manual where you can
find it, and if you need to ask the instructor's help, bring the manual
with you. (The faculty are not familiar with all makes and models.)

Remember to mark your name indelibly on your calculator. If it is an expensive model, take a moment to record its serial number. Many of these are lost and later found but ownership cannot always be determined. Remember also that batteries must be replaced occasionally.

**Do I need any other technology?**
All students are strongly encouraged to prepare for the use of
technology after they leave NIU. The skills developed can enhance their
success in mathematics courses, even though they are almost never
explicitly required. This is especially true of the ability to retrieve
helpful information from the Internet, and the ability to evaluate and
adapt to emerging technology. Students taking a *terminal* class in
the mathematical sciences (such as Math 101 or Math 210) are particularly
encouraged to learn to use the tools as they would use them after
completing their course. (On the other hand, students in courses
designed as *preparation* for another course, such as Math 110 or
Math 155, are particularly encouraged to focus on the fundamentals and theory
and to learn to carry out the necessary computations accurately and efficiently
by hand.)

Among the Internet tools available we mention some **on-line calculators** which you may find helpful when checking your homework:

- Graphing calculator (GCALC)
- Graphing calculator (GRAFEQ)
- Symbolic calculus calculator
- Symbolic integrators from Wolfram and Fateman.
- Symbolic differential equations calculator
- Linear algebra and matrix calculator
- Matrix calculator
- Vector field analyzer
- Differential Equations tools
- Interactive Mathematics Tools
- CALCULATORS ON-LINE CENTER (Links to thousands of specialty calculators).
- Sample Windows-PC calculator available for free download. ("XCalc")

**Can I always use the calculator in the course?**
There will be obvious restrictions on the use of calculators and
similar devices on exams. Unless your exams allow consultation with
other students, you cannot use a calculator as a communications
device. Unless your exams allow open notebooks, you cannot use a
calculator as a text-storage device or as an Internet connection.
If you have a calculator programmed to run algorithms which are
part of the course goal, you cannot in fairness to others be allowed
to use it on an exam unless it is made available to all students.
If your exams are intended to test your use of the concepts to
lead to a numerical answer, you cannot use the calculator as a
computational device. A violation of any of these guidelines is considered
a breach of academic integrity and can result in dismissal from the
university or other sanctions as outlined
in the Undergraduate Catalogue.

In order to enforce these regulations, your instructor may require
that the memory of a calculator be wiped clean, or may prohibit an
entire category of products (e.g. calculators with QWERTY keyboards),
or may simply forbid all electronic calculators.^{1} Of
course, the exams are written accordingly: when calculators are
allowed, the students are asked to work with them efficiently and
accurately on numerically-complicated problems; when calculators are
not allowed, the students are asked to show an understanding of the
concepts, illustrated with simpler numerical computations.

**Can you explain the rationale which leads to this detailed
set of policy decisions regarding the use of calculators in the
NIU math classes?**

Yes, but you'll have to look elsewhere.

- Links to web sites of major calculator vendors (turn here for information about your calculator): Texas Instruments, Hewlett-Packard, Sharp, Casio. (More suggestions? Contact us -- see below.)
- Texas Instruments calculator-specific sites: TI-83 | TI-83 Plus | TI-86 | TI-89
- TI-83 Tutorial for NIU calculus courses; includes links to tutorials for various TI calculators; in particular:
- TI-83 Tutorials: from Shoreline Community College, Cuyahoga Community College, Indiana University South Bend, Oklahoma State University
- Some errors and limitations of calculators
- What's the point of calculators?
- Comparison of calculator-permitted and calculator-forbidden Math 230 exams.
- Official Catalog Course Descriptions
- Placement exam information
- A math study guide by Peter Alfeld
- Undergraduate programs in the NIU Department of Mathematical Sciences

Last modified: 2006/05/01 (djr) Email: ugradprog@math.niu.edu