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Graphing Calculators

by Tim Isbell, November 2015

High school and university math students have used hand-held graphing calculators for years. More recently, on-line, browser-based graphing calculators are on the rise, perhaps because they are easier to embed in on-line textbooks, teaching helps, and homework helps. I have limited experience with graphing calculators, but I'll share what I have. Here's my annotated list:

  • Desmos - I currently use Desmos in coaching algebra 2, which is embedded in one of my student's textbook materials (CPM Integrated Math III). Desmos allows users to parameterize equations and add sliders, and even to animate the sliders. It's great for giving students an intuitive feel for how changes in various parameters affect the graph of the equation. I used Desmos to develop the posts on Equation Families and Factoring Higher Order PolynomialsIt's free, but users need an id and password to save their work.
  • GeoGebra - This is similar to Desmos, including sliders for parameters. But I don't think it can animate the sliders. GeoGebra targets the integration of geometry with algebra. The next time I coach geometry I will take a closer look at GeoGebra. It's free, but users need a user id and password to save their work. 
  • Mathway - This is a general math problem solver. Users input a broad range of math problems and Mathway solves them - including graphing. Add a monthly fee and Mathway will show the step-by-step solution process!
  • Meta-Calculator - This is the first on-line graphing calculator I ever used. In addition to a Graphing Calculator, Meta-Calculator offers three more calculators: Scientific, Matrix, and Statistics. Here's a post that I wrote on it back in 2012. It's free and does not require a user id and password. 
  • Wolfram/Alpha - One of our math coaches, a recent university graduate and a better mathematician than I, says Wolfram/Alpha is the best. After a quick look, I suspect he's right. There's a free version that provides much more information about a given problem than the other calculators, and a paid subscription version that appears to offer much more. I may subscribe and take a deeper look.
Some readers will have more experience than I have with online graphing calculators. If that's you, please use the Contact Tim link (or my regular email if you know it) to send me your comments.


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