Mike Croucher raises an important point for teachers: Are graphical calculators pointless? I think they are. I resented having to buy my daughter an expensive calculator when I could have bought her a netbook for not much more money.
Calculators are obsolete. I can’t remember the last time I used one. On the other hand, it could be valuable to have students use something really obsolete: a slide rule. Not for long, maybe just for a week or two.
- Slide rules are basically strips of log-scale paper. If you play with a slide rule long enough, you might get a tangible feel for logarithms.
- Slide rules make you concentrate on orders of magnitude. A slide rule will give you the significant digits, but you have to know what power of ten to use.
- Slide rules give you a tangible sense of significant figures. You can’t report more than three significant figures because you can’t see more than three significant figures. Maybe some experience with a slide rule would break students of the habit of reporting ever decimal that comes out of their calculators.
I’m not saying that being able to use a slide rule is a valuable skill. It’s not anymore. But the process of using a slide rule for a little while might teach some skills that are valuable. It would be fine if they forgot how to use a slide rule but retained an intuition for logarithms, orders of magnitude, and significant digits.
I’d recommend using a slide rule in high school for the same reason as using an abacus in elementary school: because it’s tangible, not because it’s practical.