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Top 5 Graphing Calculators for Students

Ms. Inglish has 30 years experience in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, history, and aerospace education for USAF Civil Air Patrol.

Technology and School

Just a few years ago, I found a local Kindergarten classroom equipped with computers for each of its 20 students.

The classroom teacher and two aides gave instructions and patiently sat with the children, who seemed to grasp the computer concepts and fly with them. Basics are more advanced than ever!

Today's high school students are often instructed to eschew multiplication table knowledge and access a handheld or online calculator instead. What if the electrical power is interrupted or no more batteries are available? That is a problem.

This accompanies the inability to make change in a retail transaction, since power outages kill the computerized registers and the ability to make transactions in retail and dining establishments. No one knows the "cigar box" method of sales from lemonade stand of yesteryear any longer.

During power interruption events in restaurants, one often hears a blurt of "We've lost cash control!", which means that the tills and receipts of the day cannot be reconciled, because there is are no longer any records -- Perfect day for a theft.

And how about those that cannot tell time without a digital readout? We hope our technology will always work.

The first widely accessible handheld computer was the Bowmar Brain, which sold for about $200 in the late 1960s. That was about 125 times the hourly minimum wage in the United States.

Computer Gadgets Can Confuse People

In the 1980s, computers seemed like magic boxes.

Technological gadgets are great, but one must know how to use them or have the foundation knowledge necessary in order to figure them out. As children in a science lesson, we were given each a compass and asked to determine a direction in which a paper arrow on a desk top pointed. I'd never previously seen a compass and did not know what it was, nor how to use it.

Our teacher would not tell me what it was or how to use the compass, but the Boy Scouts in class had no problem and ignored those of us that had no compass experience.They though we were "stupid."

This is the experience I recalled at once upon hearing some years later that a Chicago area fast food chain was sued by the businessman father of a 16-year-old employee:

On her first day of this, her first job, she was thrust into the busy Drive-Thru window area that had only a computerized cash register. She could not work it, because she was without any training for any position. She was given the admonition, "Figure it out!"

She immediately left work, crying, and called her dad at his business office. The lawsuit resulted in enough funds to pay for her college education. Since that time,. most teenagers have quickly begun to use computers in the classroom and on their own.

Many Calculators Are Helpful

If you look for the famous Bowmar Brain handheld calculator from the late 1960s-early 1970s on eBay, you'll find a handheld that looks like those available at Family Dollar for $1.00, except for the appearance.

The original BB sold for about $240 or more. Today, you can purchase a high-quality graphing calculator for much less for companies like Casio, HP, and Texas Instruments (TI).

The first graphic calculator was the Casio fx-7000G from 1985.

Hewlett Packard then developed the HP-28C and several newer models up until today. The HP 50g developed in 2006 includes a computer algebra system that manipulates symbolic expressions and solves equations.

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Texas Instruments has a long line of graphing calculators dating back to 1990.

In the 21st Century, a growing number of high schools in several countries are requiring students to own a graphing calculator, which they may even use on some exams. This may be fine, but in college when my calculator batteries died, I was still able to complete a graphing problem by hand, because I had practiced paper and pencil methods at length (because I never trusted batteries 100%).

How many of us can do these graphs without a calculator these days? I'm thinking the numbers are dwindling.

TI - 73 for Middle School

Some elementary schools are allowing students to use handheld calculators in classes, but your area may reserve calculators until middle school, usually 6th - 8th grades. The TI-73 Explorer is a good model and can be purchased new or used at decent prices. It is superior to the TI-15 which has an inadequate display.

Some schools receive grant funding to help defray the costs of these units, just as they have with laptops in years previously.

Useful Features

  • Offers at least seven types of graphs; pie charts, bar charts, etc.; graphs four different functions at the same time.
  • Several fraction and decimal features.
  • Four constants.
  • English and metric conversions.
  • One and two-variable statistics models.
  • Interactive equation solver.
  • Combinations and permutations.
  • Random number generator.
  • Compatible with CBL2™ and CBR™ systems.
  • A number of available Apps.
  • Programmable and upgradable
  • 64 × 96 pixel screen.
  • 32K RAM, 128K application space
  • One-year limited warranty.

Casio CFX-9850GC Plus

The next step up (to high school and college levels) in Texas Instruments calculators is the TI-83 or TI-84, but this Casio model is preferred by many students and teachers alike.

  • More user friendly than the TI-83 and TI-84.
  • A bit faster than the TI 83.

Best Features

  • Three-color display and 128 x 64 pixels.
  • 900+ advanced functions: statistics, regressions, financial, and more.
  • Can perform 26 matrices.
  • Graphing functions including rectangular and polar coordinates, vertical lines, and more.
  • Dynamic graphing system lets you change a coefficient and watch the graph change.
  • EQUA allows the student to calculate 2 or 3 equations, solve for 2 or 3 unknown variables, and solve quadratic and polynomial equations.
  • Black and white models are cheaper than the TI-83.
  • Stores up to 38 programs.
  • 32 KB total memory.
  • One-year limited warranty.

HP 50g

This is another good alternative to the TI-83 and TI-84.


  • A 2.5 MB memory with 512KB RAM, 2MB flash.
  • Equation Library: 2300+ functions.
  • RPN, Textbook and Algebraic entry; multiple fonts.
  • "HP Solve" App - type and store an equation and use later.
  • Computer Algebra System (CAS)
  • SD card slot - format card right in the calculator and expand the memory.
  • Calculate advanced expressions and view solutions in 2-D or 3-D.
  • USB port, USB cable, connectivity software, and pouch.
  • One-year limited warranty.

TI-84 Plus

While I like the TI-89 Titanium edition, it's likely too much power for a high school, even an Advanced Placement class; unless the student is sure to be using the device for a number of years and can master its functions.

The TI-84 Plus is a good range of models (various colors). It is authorized for use in America on the PSAT, SAT, and ACT exams, AP tests, and IB exams.

Awesome Features

  • Three times the memory and twice the speed of the TI-83 Plus.
  • Can produce 10 different graphs and analyses at one time.
  • Offers 7 different graph types and a horizontal or vertical split screen on demand.
  • Includes a USB cable and a built-in USB port for connectivity.
  • Preloaded Apps include Cabri® Jr., StudyCards™, Vernier EasyData™ and others.
  • Does matrices, business functions, statistics.
  • Unit is compatible with TI Presentation Link™ adapter.
  • 480 KB FLASH ROM
  • 24KB of available RAM memory.
  • Includes a one-year limited manufacturer’s warranty.

Voyage 200

The Voyage 200 is a larger handheld model of calculator, primarily for advanced high school STEM* classes, for college, and for engineering work.

It has a larger display than average, with a QWERTY keyboard that is not permitted in all test taking situations, especially standardized testing. Check with your school.

Voyage Features

  • Preloaded with Cabri Geometry™, CellSheet™, Finance, Polynomial Root Finder App, Simultaneous Equation Solver, The Geometer's Sketchpad®
  • Advanced mathematics and statistical plotting capabilities.
  • Availability of a large number of advanced Apps.
  • Pretty Print feature: equations and results with radical notation, stacked fractions, and superscript exponents.
  • Active Calculator Home history screen can hold up to 99 previous entries.
  • Advanced programmability.
  • 128 x 240 pixel display
  • 188K bytes of user-available RAM
  • 2.7 MB of user-available FLASH ROM
Voyage 200

Voyage 200

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2010 Patty Inglish MS

Comments and Recommendations

Julian on November 17, 2011:

I currently have a TI-84+ but i want a calculator that Can graph imaginary number, which i am pretty sure is called an argon graph, i Think the TI-89 and the Voyager 200 ones have it. But out of All the calculators that have argon graphs if you ignore the cost then which one do you Think is the Best?

Dr Rockpile from USA on September 29, 2011:

I still have my TI-85 from high school. Use it almost daily too! Get a good calculator for school and have it for life. :)

jean2011 from Canada on August 18, 2011:

Very useful information! Thank you.

htodd from United States on May 01, 2011:

That's really great,Thanks for the post

Emma from Houston TX on March 17, 2011:

Great article,thanks.

Dan on January 24, 2011:

For me, i cant go past the TI Nspire CAS, although i do realize that it is disallowed on many standardized exams.

CalcGuy from Peoria on October 24, 2010:

Interesting review. The math team I coach has won a number of events at the state championships exclusively using the TI-Nspire CAS, so I'm still pretty partial to that. I do really like the Casio 9860GII as well.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on October 05, 2010:

Thanks Julie, that's quite helpful info!

Julie Burke from Alaska on October 04, 2010:

I teach college freshman and developmental math. The TI-84, 83, and old 85 are the best for my students. The new TI-89 is too complicated, and since it's programmable you can't use it in the big standardized tests. The TI-84+ is plenty powerful for algebra, trig, and even calculus.

Free Baby Coupons on September 09, 2010:

Thanks for the hub. It's really helpful, especially now because school starts.

kingdude4ever from Lahore on August 19, 2010:

i will recommend my brother as he is going to school

kazeemjames01 on August 19, 2010:

Very educative. Well, technology is reshaping everything.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on August 12, 2010:

@Hello, hello -- Yes, yes! You have made me laugh out loud with that truth.

@eovery - Trying to trick me, eh? LOL!

Hello, hello, from London, UK on August 12, 2010:

Very informative. I got a great make it is called 'My Head'. My son always needs it.

eovery from MIddle of the Boondocks of Iowa on August 11, 2010:

I type it wrong, it is a TI-89, (FAT FINGER MISTAKE)

Keep on hubbing!

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on August 11, 2010:

Times surely change with technology.

Thanks for all the great comments! I guess I never thought that caclulators would be required in classes when I was a kid.

Wendy Henderson from Cape Coral on August 11, 2010:

It's funny when we were kids we were not allowed to use a calculator, we had to work it out in our head. No kids can not be without one. Great Hub.

Lori J Latimer from Central Oregon on August 10, 2010:

Thank you for this Hub. Very true, the next generation can scarcely count change back. Perhaps the lack of doing figures in one's head, is why people can no longer reason for themselves in the mainstream public...woah.

Rajinder Soni from New Delhi, India on August 10, 2010:

I need to bookmark this hub as I think I will be in real need of this one when my daughter will start going to main school. Thank you Patty for doing a favor by creating such a useful hub.

Dim Flaxenwick from Great Britain on August 10, 2010:

Great help as always.... Thank you , Patty x

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on August 10, 2010:

heehee eovery! - I still like Voyager 200 better. But I also use a slide rule and paper and pencil. lol

Glad your son likes his TI-90!

eovery from MIddle of the Boondocks of Iowa on August 10, 2010:

ah, you missed the IT-90, the best calculator ever built. Trouble is my son has it, and I have trouble running it.

Keep on hubbing!

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