[Edu-sig] thought re graphing calculators ...

Brian Blais bblais at bryant.edu
Wed Sep 30 12:04:35 CEST 2009

On Sep 28, 2009, at 16:30 , Gregor Lingl wrote:

> Brian Blais schrieb:
>>  However, as I think
>> about it, I can not think of a single problem where I *needed* the
>> graphic calculator, or where it gave me more insight than I could do
>> by hand.

> I think I have a counterexample.
> Run the script, that you can find here:
> http://svn.python.org/view/*checkout*/python/branches/release26- 
> maint/Demo/turtle/tdemo_chaos.py?revision=73559&content-type=text% 
> 2Fplain
> What do you think?

good example, I do I remember programming this on my calculator in  
high school (and feeling very proud of myself for it.  :)  ).  I  
exaggerated a little bit in my claim, but I would only modify it to  
the extent that once problems (like this one) get to a certain level  
of complexity, the graphic calculator becomes more of a hinderance,  
and that a quick computer program is far more useful and insightful.   
This is what I had told my home school friends: there's little point  
in learning a graphing calculator.  Understand as much as you can by  
hand, and when that becomes intractable, learn to do some plotting on  
the computer.

This just reminded me of a small program I wrote around the same  
time, to show how the surface area of an animal doesn't scale as  
quickly as the volume, and causes problems for very large animals.   
When I had finished it (and saw numerically the ratio was linear) I  
kicked myself for not just writing the equations down in the first  

When it comes to building intuition with programs, I have a recent  
blog post:


addressing one question (the Monty Hall problem) where I feel a  
program is worth a thousand equations, at least for building intuition.


Brian Blais
bblais at bryant.edu

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