I'm self-teaching math. Help me pick out a graphing calculator! (+more)
December 30, 2017 1:12 PM   Subscribe

I always hated math growing up. It didn't come to me naturally, took a lot of work, and I didn't have the most supportive teachers. As an adult, I'm giving myself a second chance at learning this stuff! Help me pick out a graphing calculator – and I'd love any tips or advice from anyone who may have done this too.

This idea stemmed from my lifelong, and still growing, interest in 3D graphics and graphic software development. I'm an animator and do 2d/3d animation with a background in design, but a few peeks behind the technical curtain have really heightened my interest in exploring that side of things. My mathematics skills are rusted to hell but I'm aiming to fix that!

I received this book, 3D Math Primer for Graphics and Game Development, for Christmas. It's clear a graphing calculator would help me a lot on the exercises, but I'm unsure where to start with so many options now. My instinct says I don't need one with a color screen and all the newfangled options, but I also hope to go very far with this pursuit and don't want to wind up buying a simpler one now and then springing for an even newer one later.

In a more general sense, has anyone else done this before? It's definitely difficult, but I'm really enjoying working through the textbook exercises and rediscovering math I tried my best to tune out in high school. The very basics of my math foundations are full of holes, so I know it would be beneficial to do, well… all kinds of math as practice. Are there any particular sites or apps that would be good for quick practice problems on different skill levels?
posted by caitcadieux to Education (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Are you sure you want a purpose-built calculator? IMO they're overpriced for what they are. There are a number of phone apps that replicate them.
posted by metasarah at 1:24 PM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: desmos is pretty cool particularly when seeing how parameters change a functions value.

wolfram alpha is handy to solve a particular problem.

better explained is a different way of looking at maths that I quite like
posted by 92_elements at 1:27 PM on December 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The graphing calculator answer is probably the TI-89, but it's pricey. However, taking a quick look at the table of contents suggests the book is mostly matrices and basic linear algebra and the TI-89 is a major upgrade over the TI-83 in this arena. (I think you can now only find the TI-83 Plus. The TI-84 doesn't add anything substantial, but costs more. Perversely, the TI-85 was a predecessor to the 83.)

However, I probably wouldn't both spending the money on a graphing calculator and use Octave or maybe Sage instead. Octave is basically a Matlab clone and is a little more targeted to this sort of numerical computation. However, if you have exposure to Python, it might be worth using Sage instead.
posted by hoyland at 1:30 PM on December 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

(To be clear, IIRC, the TI-83 has all the functionality you need. Things like entering a matrix are a pain in the butt, though.)
posted by hoyland at 1:31 PM on December 30, 2017

Response by poster: @metasarah, part of wanting one is definitely harkening back to high school days when I actually had a graphing calculator. I'm definitely open to recommendations for apps though! (Which I hadn't even considered as something that might exist, embarrassingly enough).
posted by caitcadieux at 1:32 PM on December 30, 2017

Geogebra has a lot of the functionality (and more) of a traditional graphing calculator.
posted by dilaudid at 1:56 PM on December 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Wolfram Alpha is where I'd go for quick 3D graphing. You can use a CoCalc account to run SageMath, but graphing in Sage is kind of a hassle.
posted by yarntheory at 1:57 PM on December 30, 2017

So I clicked on the surprise me like to get a feel for the book and it was Bezier curves, a fascinating topic but not something a calculator will help with at all. Are you a programmer? Getting a dev environment set up I think will be the best approach. At some point a fairly high powered gaming machine with a reasonable gpu (never need the this years model). Computer graphics are really "just" matrix manipulation and serious programming, a calculator would be essential for mechanical engineering or such but graphics is programming. Do the beginning exercises with python or other modern language but at some point plan on C++ or C#.
posted by sammyo at 2:53 PM on December 30, 2017

Oh and cool reel!
posted by sammyo at 3:01 PM on December 30, 2017

Best answer: I have a TI-83 you can have. If you want it give a holler.
posted by orsonet at 3:09 PM on December 30, 2017

Best answer: I have no particular calculator recommendations, but you may want to check out Barbara Oakley. She’s an engineering prof who failed high school math but then taught herself math as an adult. She also has the most popular coursera course ever called *leaning how to learn.* It is directed specifically at learning math and science. And it’s free.
posted by trigger at 5:56 PM on December 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

I use wabbitemu on my phone. It's a free app that basically lets you use a TI-83 on your phone.
posted by astapasta24 at 5:57 PM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have students who are using *something* to get a TI calculator right on their phones. It's an issue if you ever find yourself in a situation where you want to take a test that allows the calculator but not a phone (the SATs were this way, when I took them almost 20 years ago), but otherwise I would definitely recommend this route. Probably that's what wabbitemu is.

I want to nth the statements that TI calculators are overpriced, and these days quite underpowered as well. I haven't used it much, but Desmos seems really incredible. Give it a shot before you spend money on a calculator!
posted by dbx at 6:06 PM on December 30, 2017

The advantage (sigh) that TI calculators have is that they're (for better or worse) the "standard" and many text books will teach methods directly to/for those calculators. Matrix math specifically as I recall.

So... while everything else might be better for a thousand other reasons, I'll have to reluctantly suggest a TI calculator or emulator app, just so you can follow along and have a larger number of resources for "how do I do XYZ on my calculator" when that comes.
posted by ish__ at 6:33 PM on December 30, 2017

If you happen to have a smart phone, Wabbitemu does a great job at emulating TI calculators. You'll need to supply a rom - the firmware that comes with the calculator - but finding a TI-85 rom online with common search engines isn't hard. It's more than twenty years old, but it will do everything you need. (I'll leave the ethics up to you. My personal opinion is that TI has made enough money over decades of unbridled rent-seeking and the exploitation of terrible deals with non-profit education and testing organizations that paying them for twenty year old IP would itself be unethical.)

But, also, if you're working near a computer, I agree with others above that sage is the way to go. cocalc is an easy way to get started in a web browser without installing anything if you want to try it out.
posted by eotvos at 6:54 PM on December 30, 2017

At a computer, Desmos for general graphing and Geogebra desktop for geometry or fancier curve fitting / solving and spreadsheets.

Getting into the calculator weeds here, but compared to a TI 83, the TI 84 plus has much nicer display options for entering matrices (can do it from shortcuts, don't need to dig into a menu). Even the old 84s can get an OS update to enable those display modes.

I love Wabbit emu in a pinch, but because the buttons are smaller and well, not buttons, it takes me a lot longer to do tasks than just grabbing my 84.
posted by Wulfhere at 8:07 AM on December 31, 2017

Best answer: High school math teacher here. I can't recommend Desmos strongly enough. It will do everything I've wanted to do on a dedicated graphing calculator like the TI-83 or TI-84 but much, much more intuitively. The user interface for the TI calculators is, frankly, bonkers.

The Desmos app works nicely on your phone, as well, so you can have a dedicated calculator feel with the advantage of the superior interface and, I believe, functionality.
posted by kaymac at 8:15 AM on January 1, 2018

« Older It's Just So Warm In There.   |   Looking for a sub-36mm hybrid smartwatch Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.