The ridiculously expensive Texas Instruments graphing calculator is slowly but surely getting phased out. The times they are a-changin’ for the better, but I’m feeling nostalgic. I have some wonderful memories associated with my TIs.
You probably have an expensive Texas Instruments graphing calculator packed away somewhere. I do. In fact, I still have two. For years, TI graphing calculators have been on the school supply list of almost every student that even sets foot in an upper-level math class. They are the only calculators allowed on major standardized tests, including the SAT, ACT, AP, and IB exams.
When I was in school, everybody had one. And if you haven’t poked your head into a high school for a while, that’s still the case—and they haven’t gotten any cheaper. My first graphing calculator, a TI-83 Plus, which was the standard at the time, cost my parents $100 over 15 years ago. Guess what? They’re still just as expensive, even though your watch has more computing power. They can cost upwards of $200, depending on the model.
But recently, several school districts around the country dealt a worthy blow to the stranglehold Texas Instruments has long held on students and their families’ wallets. The calculator app Desmos, which you can install on your iOS or Android device for free, was cleared for use on some standardized testing in 14 U.S. states. It’s also available in your browser. TI still remains top dog on 60 other “high-stakes” exams, according to Texas Instruments president of education technology Peter Balyta, but its days appear numbered.
This is a welcome change for just about everyone, outside TI HQ. If this trend continues, no longer will Texas Instruments have a calculator monopoly, and no longer will less-fortunate families be forced to shell out major moola for a plastic brick that spends most of its time taking up space in students’ backpacks. Math will hopefully be more accessible to all. It’s truly for the better. And yet….
I am a tinge sad. Partly because I’m getting older and losing touch with the youth of today, but also partly because I loved my calculators and future students won’t get the same experience I did. During my math journey from algebra to high-level college calculus and beyond, my graphing calculators became extensions of my brain. But that’s not where my love for the machines came from. No, it was the games that sealed my bond with my TIs.
You see, in high school, my friends and I ran an underground ring of calculator game sharing. The process was simple. With a special cable you could install games you found within the darkest depths of the internet onto your device. Then, with the same cable, you could transfer the game data over to a different calculator. And for the graduating class of 2002, I was the originator of this black market, having started taking Algebra II at the high school in 7th grade, giving me a 2 year head start with the TI-world.
The TI-83s and beyond were capable of running all kinds of games that I played during class, on the bus, or even at home—despite the fact I had a perfectly functional GameBoy, and two different console systems (SEGA and SuperNintendo) and their game libraries at home. Oh, the hours I spent playing Snake, finessing my skill and climbing to the top of my circles ladder where I reigned from freshman year until midway though college, when my stats were horrifyingly wiped in a terrible factory reset event. How I longed to beat Phoenix, a bullet-hell shooter that I still can’t believe was written in TI-Basic. From text-based adventures to a near-perfectly-recreated version of Bubble Bobble, my TI was my favorite gaming device. Anybody could play them in class and the teachers would be none the wiser. Now, I know kids can play games on their phones easily enough, but smartphones have been the bane of teachers’ existence since they entered public schools, and having those out in the open during class raises a lot more suspicions (cheating is a big one) than an innocent calculator. My math teachers had no idea that the only numbers I was concerned with when they were reviewing the lesson for the slower kids was my high score.
Some games, like ancient stories retold by orators through the years, were merely passed down from generation to generation. Nobody knew where most of the games originated, but everybody had them. Every week it seemed like there was a new game to acquire, and kids with the hottest collections of TI games—like me—had people lining up in the hallway. Like a shady back alley deal, kids would approach me at lunch and ask if I had anything new. “Yeah, I’ve got the hookup,” I’d say, “But what have you got for me?” I’d like to think that somewhere in the country a kid is playing a game I once passed down from my very own TI-83+.
So I’ll look forward to the bright future of more affordable math tools with a smile, but I won’t look back with hatred. No, today I’m pouring one out for my TIs. Your reign will soon be over, my friends, but I’ll never forget you.