Calculator Information for Math 131
Fall 2010

A calculator is a useful tool to save time and check arithmetic. It can certainly also be helpful with more complicated calculations, with graphing and (in the case of some fancier calculators) with complicated symbolic manipulations.  A cpmputer program like Mathematica, Maple or Matlab is even more useful for serious applications.

For a beginning course like Math 131, it's important to understand what's happening with certain calculus "computations" and what insight these results give about the behavior of functions and their graphs.  So it's important to learn to do some of these computations "by hand" in relatively simple situations. Some of these calcultations will not seem "simple" as you're learning them, but -- trust me -- they are simple compared to some of the things that come up when calculus is being seriously used in the real world.  They do get easier with practice, just as elementary arithmetic and algebra got easier as you worked with them more and more; and in more complicated applications, scientists and engineers feel free to bring in the full power of computing technology.

Therefore we will not allow graphing calculators (or calculators with a Computer Algebra System, "CAS") at quizzes or exams; however, you can have a simple scientific calculator there. This will give you some help with arithmetic, if necessary, and let you express numbers like log(3.2) or sin(0.7) as decimals. (Sometimes this is necessary if the answer choices on an exam are written in decimal form.)  If you don't have a simple scientific calculator, you should get one: a calculator with arithmetic operations, roots, sin, cos, tan, log and exponential functions should be enough and it will probably cost $20 or less. Just for example (not a particular recommendation) something like the TI-30X-IIS should cost about $17.

At an exam or quiz, the use of a graphing calculator or a calculator with a Computer Algebra System (one that manipulate symbolic expressions, not just numbers) is an academic integrity violation.

Of course, you might want to use a fancier calculator when you're doing homework, and that's entirely up to you.  But if you do, then be careful not to overuse it:  you'll need to be able to handle problems similar to some homework problems on tests without the fancy machinery.  A few exercises in the text have a "calculator icon" beside them and usually require a graphing calculator but these will not be assigned.

You are probably overly dependent on your calculator if
  • You use a calculator when you need to know sin (pi/6) or tan(pi/3) or ln ( e ^ ( -3.9)  ).
  • You consistently use a calculator to get answers in calculations such as 4/7 + 3/8, which can be easily done by hand.  Finding (approximate) decimal answers instead of exact fractions in relatively simple problems generally means that a student uses the calculator too much.
  • You don't know the general features and "shape" of simple graphs like y = (x-1)^2, y = cos(2x) + 1,  y = 2^(-x), etc. without having your calculator graph them.
  • You find yourself immediately punching buttons on the calculator as soon as you get started on a test.  Few, if any, problems on most math exams are intended to require a calculator. 
Also, throughout the text, there are a number of examples where you see how a graphing calculator can be used.  Don't worry if you don't have a calculator to do these things, but do read over the examples to see what they reveal.

Just for future information.  You probably won't need a fancier calculator for most introductory math classes.  However, our introductory statistics courses Math 2200 and 3200 require certain (not terribly expensive) calculators with some built in statistical functions. More advanced courses in statistics and numerical methods in mathematics usually rely more on computer software than calculators.