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Are Graphical Calculators Pointless?

Soulskill posted about 3 years ago | from the is-it-pointless-to-play-drug-wars-while-looking-productive dept.

Math 636

An anonymous reader writes "Texas Instruments and Casio have recently released new flagship graphical calculators but what, exactly, is the point of using them? They are slow, with limited memory and a 'high-resolution' display that is no such thing. For $100 more than the NSpire CX CAS you could buy a netbook and fill it with cutting edge mathematical software such as Octave, Scilab, SAGE and so on. You could also use it for web browsing, email and a thousand other things. One argument heard for using these calculators is: 'They are limited enough to use in exams.' Sounds sensible, but it raises the question: 'Why are we teaching a generation of students to use crippled technology?'"

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Obvious (5, Interesting)

Anrego (830717) | about 3 years ago | (#35787316)

Why are we teaching a generation of students to use crippled technology?

Cause the large portion of students are untrustable cheating bastards? Ok, a little bit of hyperbole, but that really is the reason. In addition to web browsing, you could also load equation solvers and all manner of tools to enable one to cheat their way through math. The old way overpriced graphing calculators can be wiped before a test, and offer the right mixture of functionality and cripple that schools want.

The price I think is just a function of having a captive consumer base. They charge as much for something that should cost so very little because the people who need it are going to buy it.

And yes, I'm sure the ol` "in real life I'd google the answer anyway" point is going to come up, and while I agree for most traditional memorize and regurgitate type courses, I still think math should be tough with a reasonable distance from crutches, while at the same time not trying to pretend they don't exist either. Show them matlab, but make `em work it out on paper on the test.

Re:Obvious (5, Interesting)

gman003 (1693318) | about 3 years ago | (#35787392)

The thing is, even the "standard" graphing calculators are now advanced enough to teach with. Smart teachers are now demanding students reformat their calculators before a test, because otherwise they (like me) would just write a BASIC program instead of memorizing a formula, or store notes as an image.

Of course, I wrote a BASIC program that mimicked the shell, except a) it did not actually reformat, just display a message that it did so, and b) like a rootkit, it displayed false values for stored data, in this case blanks. It wasn't flawless (the ON key would interrupt the program), but none of my teachers figured it out. Arguably, it was more work than memorizing the formulas in the first place. Also arguably, this was more useful to me than rote-learning the proof of the quadratic formula.

Re:Obvious (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35787608)

why do you need to memorize the proof for the quadratic formula? If you know it, it's no work to prove it.

Re:Obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35787684)

The TI-83+ had the added feature of "Archiving" software, which (I surmise) wrote it to ROM. Then, when you'd format the device, you could simply un-archive said program and use it.

Re:Obvious (3, Insightful)

Sonny Yatsen (603655) | about 3 years ago | (#35787466)

Personally, I think as far as math education should go, the more crippled, the better. The most advanced calculators make kids dependent on them when learning. Let's let them use calculators that can only give them the most basic info like a replacement for Trig tables or for basic calculation. Anything more and the kids will learn more about the calculator and less about the subject.

Re:Obvious (1)

icebike (68054) | about 3 years ago | (#35787590)

Personally, I think as far as math education should go, the more crippled, the better. The most advanced calculators make kids dependent on them when learning. Let's let them use calculators that can only give them the most basic info like a replacement for Trig tables or for basic calculation. Anything more and the kids will learn more about the calculator and less about the subject.

Except you get out in the real world and the last thing you want is your engineer pulling formulae from their (faulty) memory when they are already available in the computers they will be using. Maybe we should teach people to do things the way we actually do things in real life. Nobody teaches doing basic arithmetic with a piece of charcoal on the back of a shovel any more.

Knowing WHAT formula to use is key. Memorizing its details is not.

Re:Obvious (5, Insightful)

arth1 (260657) | about 3 years ago | (#35787678)

Quite often engineers have to create formulae.
And if all you can do is use a calculator to solve them, you're then helpless, and won't be more than a technician or programmer.

Yes, tools are good, but you should show that you understand what they do before you get to use them. Else, the only one you're cheating is yourself.

Re:Obvious (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35787632)

I've always had the philosophy that you should take it one further and skip calculators altogether in math class. For harder K-12 math, there's no real calculations involved, just express your answer without evaluating the actual value of the square root of 5 or pi or sin(3), etc. Students shouldn't need any help doing basic arithmetic. Which is why they shouldn't need calculators for easier math either (if they need them, they deserve to fail). For classes in physics or chemistry, basic calculators should be acceptable since in those classes you're generally more concerned with the numerical answer.

Re:Obvious (3, Interesting)

MoonBuggy (611105) | about 3 years ago | (#35787492)

Thing is, if they're being bought primarily for the lack of features, it seems hardly worth bothering with an expensive graphing calculator in the first place. If you don't want people using equation solvers, storage capabilities, and so forth then they're pretty much a total waste of money (and if you need to do these things in real life, that money is better spent on a copy of Mathematica). I bought one in school, just like everyone else on the course, and I don't think I ever actually used any features you wouldn't find on a $10 scientific calculator.

If I need to plot a graph, or get the roots of a difficult equation, or whatever else, I'll do it on the computer. If I'm in an exam designed to test my ability to do those things, it'll probably be written in such a way that the calculator can't just do it for me. The overlap between things that can be tested in an exam, and things that a graphical calculator can do but a scientific calculator can't, is minuscule, and really doesn't seem worth making everyone buy the things just to test that tiny area.

a slightly less pessimistic perspective (1)

tloh (451585) | about 3 years ago | (#35787522)

When I was in high school not that long ago, the graphing calculator was an integral part of the calculus curriculum. Back in '96, even the cheapest desktops were often beyond the pocketbook of my classmates, to say nothing of net/notebooks. I am unsure of the current pedagogic inclinations in math education, but others seem to be chiming in on this thread and at least a few are saying it is still important in the classroom. Beyond high school, however, my personal experience has been that HP graphic calculators were highly sought after in engineering circles. Those I've conversed with on the subject regarded the utility and power of those tools very highly - even the antiques still available on ebay. I guess if a tool is sufficiently well developed, it can be maximized to its full potential by any experienced user.

Re:Obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35787562)

Yeah but if all math can be solved with software then past a certain difficulty what is the point of memorizing how to solve each equation in an error prone manor for average people.

Re:Obvious (2)

MusedFable (1640361) | about 3 years ago | (#35787610)

I think modern technology should be integrated with learning. I don't think of it as a crutch just like an abacus isn't or a calculator isn't. It's a tool that previous generations invented for the betterment of society and we should use them.

Re:Obvious (2, Interesting)

sweatyboatman (457800) | about 3 years ago | (#35787660)

Cause the large portion of students are untrustable cheating bastards?

"Cheating" is a concept that only makes sense in the context of "testing". In the real world, cheating would be called "collaboration".

We have a system of education designed around preparing people for solitary, boring, mindless work.

If you're good at working by yourself on predictable problems you will do really good at high school (and pretty well at college) in the US. If you thrive when interacting with other people and coordinating amongst a variety of skills to solve difficult problems, that ability will rarely be academically useful until you get out of the education system and into the real world.

Hopefully by that point you haven't allowed the deficiencies of public education to undermine your confidence and convince you that there's something wrong with you.

Re:Obvious (2, Insightful)

telekon (185072) | about 3 years ago | (#35787686)

Honestly, the real reason for the demand for crippled technology is the idiocy and cluelessness of high school maths teachers. What's the problem with writing a TI-BASIC program to solve a formula?

When I was in high school (the mid-late 90's), the first thing I did when I understood a formula was to write a program on my calculator to solve it. (I did the same thing on my Debian box at home, but in C, just to make sure I wasn't being retardedized by BASIC). This was before the days of 'wipe your calculator before the test', so of course, I would use my program; I was here to learn math, not to repeatedly perform rote computation, right?

Wrong, evidently. I lost points on my exams for 'not showing my work', even though I included my code (which my teachers couldn't understand, apparently). Luckily, my mother got it. She went to every parent-teacher conference to defend my use of programming rather than repetitive, boring computation. The teachers argued, 'Well, if he just wrote a program, how do I know he understood the math.' She just looked at them. 'Really? How could he write a program without understanding the math?'

Eventually, it came down to, 'He has to show his work, that's the stupid rule because I'm a big stupid-head.' Luckily, I discovered this trick [xkcd.com] before the xkcd comic made it blatant.

In hindsight, it's not so bad. Today I'm a programmer, and I make more than twice what my idiot math teachers made, and probably have more fun doing it.

In other news, Conrad Wolfram agrees with me 100% [ted.com]. And I trust Stephen Wolfram's son over my high school math teachers any day of the week.

Re:Obvious (0)

clang_jangle (975789) | about 3 years ago | (#35787688)

Show them matlab, but make `em work it out on paper on the test.

Wull see now that's jes discriminatorilistic against people who cain't dew math. We hav a ryte to be mathametitiens two!

Re:Obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35787698)

Real men use K&E. Now get off my lawn.

The iPad. (1)

0100010001010011 (652467) | about 3 years ago | (#35787700)

People say the same thing about tablets. You CAN get a cheaper device to do X. But Y is better suited for it.

I can code up a storm in Matlab. But if I need a 'back of the napkin' calculation. My TI-89 is there. Yes, it has made me a 'lazy engineer' because I don't care about units. I just put them in and let it deal with it. I've coded multi-hundred line applications using nothing but the TI-89's keyboards; I can probably type faster on its keyboard than most people can Text.

It fits in my backpack and if I need, a coat or sweatshirt pocket.

The battery life is measured in months. Not weeks, days or hours. You don't always need the power of Matlab.
Yes. I know how to do it all by hand. I passed everything up through DE 2 without one. But like with most things, why recreate the wheel. I just need a short quick fast calculation. The TI-89 does it.

The only thing that pisses me off is the XKCD which is linked a few times. The speed, resolution and memory of a calculator is WAY behind the times. It took them until 2004 to add a USB port insisting on their 2.5mm plug format.

TI (4, Interesting)

Lehk228 (705449) | about 3 years ago | (#35787324)

but it raises the question: 'Why are we teaching a generation of students to use crippled technology?'"

because Texas Instruments has lobbied very successfully to keep it that way.

technology that has barely advanced since the early 90's and probably only costs $10 or so to make being sold for $100-$150 to every student

to protect that kind of profit I would bribe a bunch of school districts too!

Re:TI (1)

AvitarX (172628) | about 3 years ago | (#35787592)

They don't even need to bribe that much. TI profits go to a fairly large state. The second largest state in the US benefits from the purchase of TI calculators, it's a build in bribe. TI lobbies to make sure the decision makers in Texas know about this, but it hardly needs to do much else besides let people know what's what.

Re:TI (2)

icebike (68054) | about 3 years ago | (#35787600)

because Texas Instruments has lobbied very successfully to keep it that way.

Precisely WHO would TI lobby?

Re:TI (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35787682)

Book publishers? If all the book require it there is no way of escaping it.

Re:TI (4, Informative)

Lehk228 (705449) | about 3 years ago | (#35787742)

NYS board of regents, other state's counterparts, AP college board, US Dept. of Education, Education Testing Services (company administering the SAT's)

The Only Point... (1)

camperdave (969942) | about 3 years ago | (#35787328)

The only point I ever saw for them was the coolness factor. That was back in the 1980s, though. With today's tech, a dedicated calculator seems... at best, quaint.

Re:The Only Point... (1)

Kozar_The_Malignant (738483) | about 3 years ago | (#35787472)

The only point I ever saw for them was the coolness factor. That was back in the 1980s, though.

Cool was having a top-of-the-line log-log slide rule with leather case. I had a Pickett 500 until some asshole stole it out of the biochem lab. Then I moved up to a to K+E log-log decitrig. That was back in the 1960s, though. Get off my lawn.

Re:The Only Point... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35787614)

I had a Pickett 500 until some asshole stole it out of the biochem lab.

Lol I used to work at the place that made the Pickett slide rules. Even the ones that went to the moon. :)

Apps will eventually displace handhelds (1)

perpenso (1613749) | about 3 years ago | (#35787556)

The only point I ever saw for them was the coolness factor. That was back in the 1980s, though. With today's tech, a dedicated calculator seems... at best, quaint.

OK, as the publisher of an iPhone calculator (Perpenso Calc [perpenso.com] RPN, 5 modes: Scientific Stats Business Hex Bill) I may be biased, but apps will eventually displace handhelds. It is just part of digital convergence, we will ultimately only be carrying around a single pocket sized electronic device.

Regarding web access during tests, things like "airplane mode" where all the wireless circuitry is disabled will do. It will take time for teachers/professors to catch up but a few years ago I had professors who were letting us use laptops with the caveat that wireless be disabled.

Size; runtime, harder to cheat (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35787334)

They're small enough to be pocket portable ( smart phones could handle that , but awkward to type on to me
My ti-83 lasts forever on a battery set of easily replaced AA's
while it's not impossible to cheat; it is a lot harder to slip in hidden notes in a calculator.

Re:Size; runtime, harder to cheat (1, Informative)

mysidia (191772) | about 3 years ago | (#35787618)

while it's not impossible to cheat; it is a lot harder to slip in hidden notes in a calculator.

Have you seen a TI92 [google.com] lately?

Recording notes is in theory, no problem.

Re:Size; runtime, harder to cheat (1)

AvitarX (172628) | about 3 years ago | (#35787662)

I stopped using my HP-48 when I got Droid-48 for my phone. I don't use it too much, but it sure is nice to have. I know I could get away with a lot less even (I don't do much beyond 4 function math), but the use of RPN, and the financial solver are both more useful on a "calculator" than on a netbook, even more useful than a separate application on a phone.

I think the real problem is a level playing field. If they allowed netbooks they could easily make it so the improved speed and access to information was taken up by harder (or at least longer) tests, but then a student that couldn't afford a netbook is at a disadvantage. I haven't seen an AP test for a while, but I actually think a calculator would be a more efficient tool than a netbook for the calc BC test I took in '99, it's not like I spent time waiting on the slow processor, and the buttons being specifically designed for that type of input were surely a help. I think the tests are generally designed with minimal benefit to a calculator anyway (the AP test at least provided formulas for example).

Really, I thought the question is... (4, Insightful)

Umuri (897961) | about 3 years ago | (#35787336)

Why are we having exams that require a calculator?
I did all of calculus and most of linear so far(sufficiently complex equations were done to allow for matlab use, but the test stuff could be done without), and even statistics(yay longhand division!) without one just fine, and most problems can easily be done without them if the proper setup numbers are used.

Also, they are NOT crippled enough. Even when i was in middle school there were program packs to download your textbook onto your ti-83 (I had a ti-80 and i could still type the formulas by hand) so they are still too advanced to not cheat with. And don't tell me you can just wipe the memory, any sufficiently smart cheater would have a ti with a different spare battery. You can find easy DIY's for those online nowadays easy.

Allow a calculator with a 10 key, if they need to graph something, then they should be able to figure it out enough by hand and not need a calculator.

All testing with a graphing calculator does is let more students pass because they don't need to learn, they just need to throw thier notes on the calculator memory. (Yes you'd have references in real life, but the point of most math tests is it's so basic you shouldn't NEED references, it should be the core material you know by heart)

Re:Really, I thought the question is... (2)

Anrego (830717) | about 3 years ago | (#35787386)

I think schools need to go heavy into _both_ approaches.

There is a lot of cool software for doing math, some of which enables you to do stuff wildly out of scope of pencil and paper... it should be taught rather than trying to pretend it doesn't exist.

But you also need the "you and your brain" stuff... that is, nothing but pencil and paper.

I don't see why schools try to find a middle ground... they should do both in a relatively separate manner.

Re:Really, I thought the question is... (1)

_4rp4n3t (1617415) | about 3 years ago | (#35787584)

I don't see why schools try to find a middle ground... they should do both in a relatively separate manner.

At schools in Scotland in the late Eighties they did - I sat separate exams for Arithmetic and Maths. The former was all paper and pencil, the latter scientific calculators were allowed.

Re:Really, I thought the question is... (1)

SirThe (1927532) | about 3 years ago | (#35787418)

Any sufficiently smart cheater would "archive" the programs they wanted to keep so they wouldn't be wiped when you "wiped" the calculator.

Re:Really, I thought the question is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35787458)


If you can't visualize curves in your head and get order of magnitude answers without electronic aid, you will be crippled (or, at best second-rate). You need to have a feel for numbers, to think (and calculate) on their feet for many scientific/engineering fields.

Re:Really, I thought the question is... (3, Interesting)

adamdoyle (1665063) | about 3 years ago | (#35787504)

I agree that you shouldn't "need" a calculator, but on a test in a non-math class, it's nice to have. For instance, in Physics, maybe you have a bunch of problems involving kinematic equations and you barely have enough time to set them up. It's nice to be able to use the calculator to reduce your augmented matrix into RREF. Sure, I can do it by hand, but I don't always have time on a test. With a TI-89, I can save a bunch of time by taking the grunt work out of the equation. And a laptop wouldn't work because what kind of teacher is going to let students have internet access during a test? (not to mention access to scanned copies of their notes, etc.)

Re:Really, I thought the question is... (1)

lgw (121541) | about 3 years ago | (#35787642)

a laptop wouldn't work because what kind of teacher is going to let students have internet access during a test? (not to mention access to scanned copies of their notes, etc.)

IIRC, every math or science test I had in college was open notes/open book, and most were take-home tests. Memorization was not rewarded; ability to apply techniques was.

Re:Really, I thought the question is... (1)

adamdoyle (1665063) | about 3 years ago | (#35787718)

a laptop wouldn't work because what kind of teacher is going to let students have internet access during a test? (not to mention access to scanned copies of their notes, etc.)

IIRC, every math or science test I had in college was open notes/open book, and most were take-home tests. Memorization was not rewarded; ability to apply techniques was.

I have taken Calc. 1, Calc. 2, Vector Calc, Differential Equations, Physics I and II, Intro. Linear Algebra, Statics, Dynamics, Intro. Analytic Geometry, and more and of all of them, Statics and Dynamics were the only ones with open book/notes tests (because they were taught by the same guy).

Obligatory xkcd (1)

DeadDecoy (877617) | about 3 years ago | (#35787340)

Re:Obligatory xkcd (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35787500)

You may laugh. When I was at Macquarie University, Australia, in the mid to late 1990s, they had a contract (can't remember if it was with TI or HP) to make an ASIC that captured all the functions of their calculators. The job was done by one person. I can still remember him with a lap full of paper schematics covered with NAND gates and so on. I'll bet they are still using his chip.

So yes, there is only one Engineer left, and he lives in Sydney, Australia.

If you have to ask, you'll never know. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35787352)

How is this even a serious question? One point alone: a calculator's batteries last a HELL of a lot longer than a netbook's, even with very heavy use (we're talking months vs. hours).

But going further, a calculator is also a lot smaller and lighter than a netbook. There's nothing "crippled" about a graphing calculator (personally, I've worked through statistical analysis in my laboratory classes using my TI-83+ MUCH faster than my peers using a copy of Mathematica on laptops, but I know how to use the damn thing because I read the manual cover to cover).

Smells like flamebait, or somebody who hasn't actually used one of these devices.

Re:If you have to ask, you'll never know. (1)

adamdoyle (1665063) | about 3 years ago | (#35787538)

I agree with your point but I have a hard time believing that your TI-83+ can do the computations faster than Mathematica. (maybe the other students were just slower)

Crippled Technology? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35787356)

You could ask instead: " Why do we allow automated calculating devices at all?"

But let's get real. The point is to let the student demonstrate that they understand
  the (higher-level) concepts that are really being tested. The test is about "Do you
know how to determine X" (load on beam, area under curve), not about "can you multiply
100*pi^2), and not about "can you look up this on the internet".

For one thing (1)

floydman (179924) | about 3 years ago | (#35787358)

There is a generation of scientisits that doesnt know how to use anything but them
I used to work in a company, with scientists aged 45 and above, they had linux clusters, powerful desktops with the latest software, but in the office, there HAS TO BE a scientific calculator lying on the desk somewhere.
Companies realize that there is still a minor need, and produces for that need accordingly.
But i assume that this will disappear.

Money? (2)

MrQuacker (1938262) | about 3 years ago | (#35787360)

Because the schools get kickbacks from the book publishers. And the book publishers only publish math books that can be used with specific graphing calculators. Guess who pays off the publishers to do that?

To further the greed, even if they aren't getting kickbacks to increase sales of one line of calculators, they have no incentive to keep up with the tech and rewrite the books.Once they write one book, all they have to do to newer editions is charge the order that the problems are printed in. So its the same book, but different enough to force people to buy the new edition.

Tests?? (1)

adamdoyle (1665063) | about 3 years ago | (#35787362)

One argument heard for using these calculators is: 'They are limited enough to use in exams.' Sounds sensible, but it raises the question: 'Why are we teaching a generation of students to use crippled technology?'"

Do you really want students to have internet access during a test? I know how to solve a system of equations by hand (by reducing a matrix into RREF) but my Physics teacher and Mechanics teacher both lets us use a calculator to solve them on a test to save time. Are you saying they should let me use a computer that may or may not have an aircard (i.e. internet)?

Re:Tests?? (0)

mysidia (191772) | about 3 years ago | (#35787732)

Are you saying they should let me use a computer that may or may not have an aircard (i.e. internet)?

I am saying, yes, they should allow you to use a computer, under strict rules.

No access to the internet.

No access to notes or data you stored in advance, except if you got those notes/data approved in advance. Any other ground rules the instructor sees fit to put into place.

The proctors reserve the right to wander about the room and look at your screen at any time. If you are seen on the internet, or reviewing a note, you will be immediately ejected from the exam room, your test paper will be spoiled/estroyed, and you get charged with academic dishonesty.

But the fact a few people might cheat should not dissuade educators from using technology.

It should also be noted 'cheating by logging onto the internet' is easier to detect than cheating by shoulder surfing other students.

Crippled technology (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35787364)

The bigger concern is crippled calculators, who can't add or make change without electronic help.

Using cripple technology (1)

billyea (2029384) | about 3 years ago | (#35787368)

'Why are we teaching a generation of students to use crippled technology?'" Because we don't really want them using advanced technology on the exam in the first place. We want them to know the theory. Graphing calculators have limited uses (in my university, it is almost never actually useful) so they still require some thought before using them to solve a question. Advanced technology is advanced enough to solve problems without the student needing to know the theory in the first place, and advanced enough for teachers to not know how to shut off that functionality. That's all.

Another viewpoint on calculators and exams... (1)

geekmux (1040042) | about 3 years ago | (#35787370)

"...'They are limited enough to use in exams.' Sounds sensible, but it raises the question: 'Why are we teaching a generation of students to use crippled technology?'"

Crippled technology? Hell, why do we even allow calculators to be used in ANY exam? What's the point in "teaching" math if you let the calculator do 90% of the work? And no, I'm not talking about "show your work" when solving for seriously complex calculations, I'm talking about what 95% of high school students are "taught" and yet the system allows them to pass through with flying colors due to massive hardware "grants" from Texas Instruments.

Go ahead, take the calculator away for a week and see how much the average student has really learned.

Re:Another viewpoint on calculators and exams... (1)

PCM2 (4486) | about 3 years ago | (#35787444)

In the calculus classes at my school, calculators were not required, but their use was encouraged as a learning tool ... except during exams, where they were forbidden.

To me the policy was analogous to that of the organic chemistry classes, where homework counted almost nothing toward your grade and in some cases wasn't collected at all. If you never turned in any homework, it wouldn't hurt your grade ... but if you thought you were going to pass the exams without doing the work, you were in for a rude awakening.

Re:Another viewpoint on calculators and exams... (3, Interesting)

pclminion (145572) | about 3 years ago | (#35787482)

What's the point in "teaching" math if you let the calculator do 90% of the work?

What's the point in "teaching" math if you let the decimal system and all that clever carry-the-one shit do all the work? I mean seriously, students need to learn what addition really is -- make them put 198 beans into a pot, then put another 61 beans in the pot, then count the beans to get the answer.

Being a human is about being smart, not being dumb. Forcing a student to do addition on paper when the student is studying partial differential equations is nothing but an insult. By that point I think they've earned the right to not continually have to prove that they can add two numbers together.

As an undergrad taking physics I had this bad habit of forgetting my calculator, especially on test day. I'd end up doing longhand division and taking up half the paper and leaving less room to write the actual answer. The professor started asking me what the hell I was smoking.

Re:Another viewpoint on calculators and exams... (1)

Xhris (97992) | about 3 years ago | (#35787724)

Hell, why do we even allow calculators to be used in ANY exam? What's the point in "teaching" math if you let the calculator do 90% of the work? .

You obviously have never done any sort of serious math, or are still in high school. Math is not about adding up numbers - thats just some of the raw ingredients needed at the start.

NB: In Australia only very basic casio style scientific calculators ($20 jobs) are allowed in exams. There is a list and your calculator must be on the list.

we're not teaching them technology (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35787376)

we're teaching them concepts

Oh please, this comes up every six months (5, Insightful)

PCM2 (4486) | about 3 years ago | (#35787378)

This same topic seems to get re-submitted to Slashdot about twice a year.

Short answer: If you need 100MB for a calculator, I salute you. If 320*240 pixels with 65,536 colours is too small and low-res for you for a calculator, you should save your money for a trip to the eye doctor.

Can a netbook do more different things than a calculator can? Yes, yes it can. That is why a calculator is not called something else... like, say, a netcalcubooklator.

My cell phone lets me make phone calls and also play Angry Birds. Why is Uniden still selling phones that don't have built-in synchronization to Google Contacts?

My 24" widescreen LCD monitor can display six pages of a book at once at full resolution. How do Amazon and Barnes & Noble get away with selling devices that can only display one page at a time, are not backlit, and can't run Photoshop?

The answer is obvious: There is plenty of room in the world for purpose-built devices. The reasons why people like to use those devices will vary. I, for one, like having a compact calculator that is programmable and has plenty of easy-to-stab dedicated calculator buttons on the front (as opposed to messing around with LaTek formula input, or whatever other input method you'd use on a device with a keyboard or touchscreen). My calculator of choice is an HP 50G. The HP 48 emulator on my Android phone can do most of what the 50G can do (and probably a lot faster), but as an emulated calculator on a touchscreen device, it ain't the same.

Do I use my programmable calculator every day? No, no I do not. Do I resent spending $120 on a calculator, compared to the cost of the chemistry textbook I bought for the same class? No, no I do not.

Re:Oh please, this comes up every six months (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | about 3 years ago | (#35787568)

Bingo. The dedicated buttons. I use my HP calculator every fraking day at work.

Replace the batteries once a year.

Re:Oh please, this comes up every six months (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35787622)

The problem is that for most problems, there are better tools than a calculator. I haven't touched my programmable calculator in years; for the stuff that's simple enough to do on a calculator, I'll just use Excel; and the harder problems I never did on the calculator anyway. Purpose built devices are great, but they're only better when their custom form factor makes them easier to use. Excel is far easier to use than a graphing calculator.

Additionally, Office 2010's formula editor is INCREDIBLY easy to use. I've been taking a number of heavy theory finance classes (i.e. lots of integration, differentiation, logs and radicals) and once you learn the shortcuts, it's very fast to type in (way faster than a touchscreen or pen and paper.) Office 2007 is not so great, but 2010 made huge improvements to the formula editor.

This again? (1)

BonquiquiShiquavius (1598579) | about 3 years ago | (#35787384)

Seems to me a similar story was posted not too long ago. Summary of the discussion: graphical calculators serve as an anti-cheating tool, as they cannot be programmed, except that they can be programmed if you're smart enough, and therefore actually serve no purpose. The only practical solution seemed to be providing students with a school owned graphic calculator at the beginning of the test (thus taking away any opportunity to pre-program the calculator).

Re:This again? (1)

deinol (210478) | about 3 years ago | (#35787540)

I used to have pages of notes in my calculator back in college. And this was over a decade ago.

If it is possible to actually cheat with a graphics calculator, you wrote the test wrong. For any math algebra and beyond, showing your work is far more important than what the actual answer is.

Plug me in (1)

Wolfling1 (1808594) | about 3 years ago | (#35787388)

Our lumbering education system is slowly moving away from 'knowledge based education' to 'skills based education'. However, it will take a long time before the old-fashioned diehards retire and make room for some new thinkers.

I understand the difference between an emeritus professor, and a Wiki-expert, but outside my own field of expertise, why would I need to be anything more than a Wiki-expert?

Personally, I am excited about the prospect of having a plug in the back of my neck, and the opportunity to have large portions of my memory uploaded to the cloud. Leave me with my personal life experiences, and my core skills, and take the rest.

We are the borg. Prepare to be assimilated.

If it's not a fad pad, it's crippled! (0)

BitHive (578094) | about 3 years ago | (#35787390)

You heard it here first, folks. Teaching students to use anything but the latest netbooks or tablet is doing them a disservice, as no doubt once they enter the real world where all equipment is replaced every 3 years they will have no need of any skills beyond using voice control to ask Google Calculator to do unit conversions.

It's really hard to get math right on computer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35787402)

It's a digital device, unless the software and the hardware are married just right, the calculations are going to be off. Remember how hard it was to get basic math right in C, and it's significantly harder to do the higher level mathematics in a robust handheld form. I routinely use my trusty 83 to double check various calculations, and there is something to be said for having a single use instrument that performs without error.

The only graphical calculator... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35787404)

...I used was a TI83 that I had to purchase for a math class when in college. I cost me almost 2 months of wages as a part-time student. I ended up selling it back to the bookstore when the class was over at more than 60% loss. Turned out we didn't use it for more than few stupid graphs of no value or relevance to real life, my education, of my future growth.

I remember that not purchasing it would have fed me for a month.

I've been so bitter about the experience that all along hoped that all graphical calculators would die a slow and painful death.

Speaking of which, looks like you can get the same experience on your phone: http://www.appcylon.com/

At least I was born with the wheel already invented.

Because they are sometimes better (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35787414)

I sit at my desk with 2x 24" monitors, Mathcad, matlab and maple, yet sometimes when I want to do certain things (simple arithmetic and symbolic calculus are the most typical items) I still reach for my TI-89.... some things are just faster on the calculator....

and I agree I wouldn't trust most of my classmates to have a full computer during a test.... but in electrical engineering if the tests can be done without a calculator then they aren't hard enough....

on a PC I could have every example and problem in the book done in a mathcad sheet and just do whatever slight alterations are needed to solve the problem... if the problem is so hard that you can't alter an example or problem from the book to complete it then 99.5% of the people would fail.

What are we testing? (1)

Nidi62 (1525137) | about 3 years ago | (#35787416)

'Why are we teaching a generation of students to use crippled technology?'"

I was under the assumption that tests weren't about how good you were with technology or how quickly efficiently you could use technology to find/give you the answer, but rather that they were about being able to determine how well a student grasps the concepts, facts, and functions of the matter on which they are being tested. I thought these tests were supposed to be about the student, not about the technology.

Non-Connected (1)

Pitawg (85077) | about 3 years ago | (#35787420)

One big reason to retain all of the simple tools, there is no interaction with the rest of the world, leaving more trust than any connected application or system would ever legitimately engender.

Why should a calculator need connectivity? These items were prevalent when products were completed prior to coming to market. There was no need for updates on 99% of finished products. There was no need for ads to be brought in, taking away value and usage time. There was no collection of personal information or usage data. They cannot be taken over from far away.

Price (1)

Formalin (1945560) | about 3 years ago | (#35787424)

The same reason popcorn costs a fortune at the theatre. Artificial demand / scarcity, you can't bring in your own popcorn. And that had better be a TI-xx or you can't bring it in, either. No phones or laptops during the test, plz.

Pretty decent racket TI worked out with schools, I guess. I always preferred HP calcs anyway. RPN or death.

Very limited need (1)

JazzyMusicMan (1012801) | about 3 years ago | (#35787426)

I really don't understand why those things are used! The only time I ever "needed" a graphing calculator was in high school. In college, not a single math class allowed calculators, at all. Even the calculus courses! The only thing I ever used my TI-83P for was loading it up with equations (in the notepad app) for physics. And in physics, the hard part is knowing which equation to solve given the problem, not how to do math. Most of the time we were allowed cheat sheets anyways. These things are useless. I would've posted the xkcd comic, but someone else beat me to it.

Better question: (1)

raving griff (1157645) | about 3 years ago | (#35787448)

Why are we paying $100+ dollars for a device that performs on the level of a 2001 smartphone?

Re:Better question: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35787532)

I think a lot of it has to do with the convenience of having a calculator in front of you. I tried to use a 2001 era, and even a modern era smartphone to do calculator math and both the UIs and interface were painful and clumsy compared to the dedicated device. Sure, the screen was higher resolution and the smartphone's calculator software had more features, but it was much less easy and quick to operate because the calculator had actual buttons for all the functions which I could use my muscle memory with, while the phone had cramped pads and the shoehorned interface made a series of additions a quick shuttle trip to hades.

Really, I wish there were better smartphone apps, but I don't think it would be possible for a phone (or even laptop) to be as easy to use for number manipulation as a calculator -- unless you had a custom keyboard connected to it, which would probably cost a hell of a lot more than the $100 calculator in the first place.

Schools? (1)

Vylen (800165) | about 3 years ago | (#35787450)

I'd imagine that most schools won't allow a person to bring a Netbook in school in place of a graphics calculator. Especially during a test.

Yes and No (2)

fermion (181285) | about 3 years ago | (#35787456)

For general use, dedicated calculators have gone the way of dedicated mp3 players or feaure phones. I have an HP emulator on my iPhone as well as Wolfram!Alpha. Unless on loves he keyboard, which is not all ha easy o use, these to applications take the place of my huge HP 49 or TI-89 or whatever.

That said one can't use a smarphone on a test. That is why over the past 10 years calculators have no been designed for he professional, but for the testing companies. Pro features are removed to make it acceptable for the standardized test. Ad copy basically focuses on this. I believe the TI nspire even has an interchanabled keyboard that limit functionality so it can be used on tests.

I don't see any reason to teach the calculator other than it is a necessary test taking skill. As long as the public gives credence to the AP exam, as long as states believe calculators are more important than basic skills, as long as calculator manufactures pay politicians to require calculators in the classroom, we will have them. OTOH, it is much more likely to get a kid o use a calculator to do work, rather than a computer where they go off and play WOW.

Power consumption (2)

Ironchew (1069966) | about 3 years ago | (#35787470)

I haven't run any exact tests, but I've gotten a TI-83+ running on solar panels, in full sunlight, rated at 6V, 100 mA (600 mW). I also have an Eee PC 701 that consumes roughly 26 watts of power when it runs directly off the wall charger. I'm not sure how efficient today's netbooks are, but that's a big difference.

priced like the textbook market (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | about 3 years ago | (#35787476)

priced like the textbook market and much like the old textbook system they are old fashion but are still uses and are very over priced.

Graphing vs regular calculators on exams (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35787484)

I always ask myself why sometimes professors say "NO GRAPHING CALCULATORS". Okay...great, thanks. I understand. But why the hell are we being forced to downgrade our use of technology, and why can't you make questions in such a way so as to prevent (the large majority) of us from easily using the graphing calculator to find the answer?

Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35787502)

'Why are we teaching a generation of students to use crippled technology?'

For the same reason it's good to teach your children good penmanship: you don't always have a computer around to do the work for you.

Dumb Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35787508)

It's a standardised, task-specific device that costs half of the alternative suggested. This matters to schools and students (/parents). You can teach all kids in the class the same process, focusing on the math more than the device by having one universally required make and model of device. Also, the students can use it during exams with a lesser fear of cheating. This submission is just stupid.

Who needs them? (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | about 3 years ago | (#35787516)

In the early 90s I made my way through a pretty high power engineering program with just a simple "scientific" calculator. You want plots, bring colored pencils and DRAW them, punk.

There's no need for graphing calculators - they're for parents who think buying encyclopedias makes their kid smart.

exams and network access (1)

bcrowell (177657) | about 3 years ago | (#35787518)

I teach physics for a living. Different profs run their courses in different ways, but personally I feel that memorization is evil, so I give open-notes exams. Therefore I don't really care whether students use graphing calculators that can store all their equations for them. To me, the bigger issue is preventing students from accessing internet and cell networks. I don't want them communicating with someone outside the room who will help them on the exam. This is why I let them use a calculator on an exam but not a netbook. Outside the context of a test at school, my opinion is that graphical calculators are pointless because their price lies in between the price of a $10 calculator and a $600 netbook, but they are no more useful than a $10 calculator.

Cost (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35787520)

> For $100 more than the NSpire CX CAS you could buy a netbook and fill it with cutting edge mathematical software such as Octave, Scilab, SAGE and so on.

Looks like you answered your own question. They're cheaper than anything else. Not everyone can afford a laptop.

Anyway, do you really think we're teaching a generation of students to use "crippled" technology? If there's anything the Y & Millenial generations have taught us, it's that young people catch on to new technology faster than everyone else. We're not teaching them anything about technology that they can't learn or un-learn on their own.

s/.*/computer/g (1)

fdawg (22521) | about 3 years ago | (#35787524)

What is the probability you'd be in a situation professionally where you had enough time to boot up a laptop, install the relevant software, assume you already know how to use it, and do something productive with it and not get fired?

Solving simple differential equations or linear algebra in a pinch is exactly why I keep my calculator. The same calculator I used in school many moons ago. I've used Matlab and Mathematica, and can be moderately productive with them. But I'll always stick to my trust TI-89 for its utility and consistently error-free operation.

For me its the same thing as having a PC instead of a TV. Yeah, it works. But the startup cost (in time) and maintenance is non-negligible.

What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35787544)

What are you people talking about? Graphing calculators are far quicker for most math problems *because* they are dedicated devices. Having a dedicated keyboard and character set just for mathematics means that functionality is quicker and easier to access. I refuse to do physics without my TI-86 on hand, although I'll admit the TI-89 that I use for most calculations can be frustrating at times. The NSpire series does seem a little dumbed down (I've never used one, though), so maybe a computer would be preferable to one of those devices.

No calculators (1)

vijayiyer (728590) | about 3 years ago | (#35787560)

Math should not be taught with calculators, since calculators are simply tools to do math more quickly - once you already understand what's going on.

Wrong question (1)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | about 3 years ago | (#35787566)

One argument heard for using these calculators is: 'They are limited enough to use in exams.' Sounds sensible, but it raises the question: 'Why are we teaching a generation of students to use crippled technology?'"

The real question is - "Why aren't we teaching students to better understand by graphing themselves, rather than relying on a machine?"

Granted, it's a lot easier to use a machine to graph than going through the drudgery of drawing the graphs; but slogging through graphing is part of developing not just an understanding of the process, but a feel for the answer so you can recognize one that isn't right and look for your data entry errors.

I graded papers or engineering classes and would get (wrong) answers to 8 decimal points. After a while i felt like writing in big bold letters "DO YOU REALLY BELIEVE THIS ANSWER? BECAUSE IF YOU DO YOU NEED TO FIND A DIFFERENT COURSE OF STUDY!!!!"

An important part of math is getting a feel for the answer and about what it should be so you can recognize the odd ones and look to see if you made a mistake. Technology, while grand, often acts as crutch and people blindly believe it.

Of course, there's nothing like a sales clerk getting a price of one cent after discount and proceeding to explain it must be right because the register said so. Or staring blankly at you after ringing up $10.00 for a $5.05 and you hand them a nickel and the insist they can take it and give you a $5 bill back "because the register thinks I put in a ten." Oh well....


Teaching with calculators (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35787570)

Your point is well made. Why use crippled hardware and software to teach mathematics? Why not teach higher level concepts with computers to 100 level students? The counter argument is that the student needs to work out the solution using algebra, theorems, and proofs, and the student needs to conceptualize the curve of the graph in general terms before tackling the problem. Often the software does not give exact or correct answers to a difficult problem, and it does not always show you the steps that it followed to get the solution. Until we get to the point of having decent software, teachers and engineers won't accept lame software.

Expensive, but otherwise practical (1)

Warbane (2034760) | about 3 years ago | (#35787576)

Overpriced? Yes. But I don't think we should push for high school students to use devices with the power and modifiability of netbooks to replace what they're currently using graphing calculators to accomplish. When I was in high school, students spent enough time in class playing the handful of games that shipped with their TI-83/4's (or obtained them from a friend) that adding more opportunities for distraction isn't ultimately desirable for keeping attention in class and preventing cheating on exams. Sure, some people will always be looking for a means to distract themselves, but that's not an excuse to encourage it. I also found that most students (in general secondary school math/ science classes) had enough trouble learning anything beyond the basic functionalities of the devices that throwing many times more options on them wouldn't really add too much to their learning experience. A root issue was, of course, that the teachers often didn't know too much about the calculators' functionality themselves, and as such didn't effectively teach much beyond the basics. In many (if not most) of the type of classes that are required to use these calculators, the teaching emphasis is more on learning the mathematical concepts, not learning to use a device that will do it for you with greater efficiency. For the self-motivated students who are going to take advantage of what capabilities their devices have, a simpler device offers an easier learning curve and quicker route to mastery. One who is interested enough to learn most of a standard graphing calculator's functionality will most likely move on to expand that knowledge with full-fledged devices and software. An example, I had no exposure to programming as a child (as well as fairly limited internet exposure) and the BASIC language on my TI calculator was the first language I learned. It's simplicity left me wanting to do much more, and I went from there to assembly for the z80 architecture of my calc, and from there on to Java/ C++ and beyond. tl;dr - Calculators should be reduced (substantially) in price, but are primarily used by the average student, not a future mathematician/ scientist. Those who need more functionality will move on to it and won't be overwhelmed by an exhaustive feature/ functionality list at a younger age.

Why are we crippling a generation with technology? (1)

martin-boundary (547041) | about 3 years ago | (#35787580)

The real question I think is why are we crippling yet another generation with technology that thinks for them? Kids need to learn how to sketch by hand, and how to compute approximate numerical answers in their heads.

Pocket calculators are responsible for at least two generations of innumerate kids already. Netbooks with math software won't solve that problem in the future. There is no royal road to geometry, calculus, or arithmetic.

convenience (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35787586)

Not everyone likes to use a computer for everything. Sometimes having a small dedicated device that does one thing very very well is better than having an all in one solution that does everything. I will take my ti-92 and 83 before i lug around a netbook,a case and a power chord.

Stupid question (1)

vux984 (928602) | about 3 years ago | (#35787624)

but it raises the question: 'Why are we teaching a generation of students to use crippled technology?'"

And the proposed alternative? Raise a generation of kids who can't do calculus by hand? Derivatives and Integrals and limits just come out of the magic computer box?

As it is, kids get no technology to learn elementary mathematics / arithmetic.

They get basic calculators in high school while they are learning algebra and trig and pre-calculus to do the grunt arithmetic. They get basic calculators once they know how to do what the calculators can do.

They get graphing calculators in college/university while they are learning calculus, differential equations and beyond to do the grunt algebra, trig, and arithmetic. They get graphing calculators once they know how to do what the graphing calculators can do.

Then they get computers, and they can use them to tackle advanced mathematics. And the math the computer does for them isn't magic box. They could do it themselves in principle, although they recognize that it would take man-lifetimes to do some of what they are asking it to do.

I think understanding what the tool is doing is crucial. A child being raised to farm should know how the earth should look when its turned properly, how much seed to distribute to an area, how much water is needed, what to harvest, when to harvest it, and how etc. He doesn't need wander around the yard with a scythe, or push a plow with oxen but he if you want to test that he knows these things you you can't give him a push button FarmingComputer9000 either with a buttons for "plow field", "plant seed", "irrigate", "harvest". That child may be able to operate the FarmingComputer9000... but he hasn't got a clue how to farm.

Too crippled to cheat? (1)

ShavedOrangutan (1930630) | about 3 years ago | (#35787638)

My TI-whatever had like 500 bytes of memory, and I could cram so many physics, economics, or statistics formulas into that space. Which begs the question of why I ever had to "memorize" any of that, since now I just look up whatever I need to use.

Love my Sharp PCE-500 : ) (1)

BrendaEM (871664) | about 3 years ago | (#35787664)

Last year, for my birthday, I bought myself an old Sharp PCE-500 pocket computer. I love doing math on this thing. It remembers all the variables. It runs for over 40 hours on a set of batteries. It has an algaberic expression mode, but the main reason while I like it: The Keyboard; having a real scientific keyboard at your fingertips makes everything faster and easier than trying to make do with a laptop or desktop keyboard.

What am I to do when this thing dies?

Of course these tools have their place. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35787672)

(First off, this is hardly news for nerds or stuff that matters, but...)

These devices have a very good place at a certain point in a child's learning experience. General purpose computing devices and more complex programs have their place on down the road, but at times when students are learning principles of algebra, geometry, and trigonometry, these devices provide a limited subset of functionality that focuses on the lessons at hand. Often the curriculum focus on teaching the principle, then teaching how to perform computations with the tool (the graphic calculator), and then combining the route knowledge of the tool with real-world or problem-solving applications. These types of scenarios are well suited for limited devices because most students don't yet have a complete cognitive framework to appreciate or use more complex modeling tools.

The question seems written from the point of view of a high school senior or college math student, where the utility of a simple graphing calculator is far less and may be more of a hindrance. It's important to note that not all students are part of the same audience for this type of technology.

Just you to pry my TI-81 from me... (1)

turbclnt (1776692) | about 3 years ago | (#35787694)

I love my TI-81 that I've had since high school. I'm an engineer by day, and having a really fast way to calculate long formulas is incredibly handy. I almost never use the graphing functions anymore, but I love the 6 line display, the storage features, and the awesome ANS button. Oh yeah, and I've got the locations of all the function keys dedicated to muscle memory, so I can burn through equations so fast.

Computers are better for some things - I'm a regular user of Scilab and R, and they are both way better platforms on an actual computer. However, for run of the mill trig or arithmetic, a solid calculator still cannot be beat. Maybe the interesting question to ask is why aren't people selling sweet, multi-line calculators with multiple storage and scientific functions, just sans the graphing functions? I'd buy one of those in a heartbeat!

Doesn't Really Matter (1)

englishknnigits (1568303) | about 3 years ago | (#35787696)

With a graphing calculate I can take it out, hit the "On" button, enter an equation, and get an answer very quickly. No need to boot up a computer, launch an application, etc. The battery life on a calculator is also and order of magnitude better. A graphing calculator is wayyyy less distracting. Yes they have drug wars...but they don't have facebook, /., and the other countless distractions that a netbook would provide. Lastly, 99.999999% of people will never need the tools on a graphic calculator OR the ones you described. Most peoples lives do not involve solving complex equations on a regular basis, if ever. So who cares if it is antiquated technology.

Teach concepts, not calculations. (1)

wickerprints (1094741) | about 3 years ago | (#35787734)

Some math exams are quite difficult as they are without calculators, such as the William Lowell Putnam competition, or even any of the American Mathematics Competitions (AMC, including AIME and USAMO). The existence of these exams proves the fact that, unless the purpose of an examination is to test one's ability to use such computational devices, there is no intrinsic reason why calculators should ever be REQUIRED for an exam.

The truth is, it takes work on the part of the test designer (often, the instructor) to write questions that are intended to test concepts in a way that do not require a computational aid. And educational publishers collude with the manufacturers of calculators to provide teaching materials that assume the possession and use of said calculators. So teachers, faced with the choice of a pre-approved, ready-made curriculum, versus having to design their own exams and fight for approval by bureaucratic school boards--assuming they even have the intellectual capacity to write their own material--choose the former. It is, again, the political and economic influence of large, powerful corporations dictating how math is taught, that is the reason why we push this crappy, overpriced technology on kids.

Now, that's not to say calculators don't have their uses. They absolutely do, but if the pedagogical goal is to show students how to use technology, then examinations must be written in a way that leverages, rather than inhibits, its use. Otherwise, it is entirely possible to construct exams in a way that require nothing except a pencil, paper, and a brain.

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