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Teaching and Learning with Graphing Calculators

Duration of Use and Ownership

Conclusion:  Research shows that when students use graphing calculators frequently, they tend to score higher on national-, state-, and school-level tests. Some studies have included use both in class and in homework. Research also indicates that it is not simply the frequency of access but types of use that matters.

SRI International
While available research does not make a conclusive case, research shows that when students use graphing calculators frequently, they tend to score higher on national, state and school-level tests. Correlational studies of the relationship of frequency of graphing calculator use and achievement using:

  • The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)
  • Algebra I End-Of-Course Tests in Oregon and Kansas
  • The Texas TAKS exam

all show higher achievement when students have access to a personal graphing calculator both in and outside of class.  An experimental study of Calculus in the Netherlands study provides the strongest evidence to date of the benefits of frequent access to graphing calculators. Research also indicates that it is not simply the frequency of access but types of use that matter.  Selective access to the calculator (depending on the learning activity) during class is a best practice.

Reference: Center for Technology in Learning (2009) “Should students have frequent access to graphing calculators? TI Research Note 3.  Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.
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Conclusion: The more students use graphing calculators during instruction the higher their test scores.

Heller Research Associates
In a gain score study of handheld graphing calculator use by 458 high-school Algebra 1 students in two suburban school districts in Oregon and Kansas, using Key Curriculum Press's Discovering Algebra textbook:

  • The more access students had to graphing calculators, and the more instructional time in which graphing calculators were used, the higher the test scores.
  • Scores were significantly higher where teachers reported receiving professional development on how to use a graphing calculator in math instruction.
Reference:(Heller, Curtis et al. 2005)

Conclusion: Students do better in math when they use a graphing calculator both in class and at home.

Southwest Educational Development Laboratory
In a statewide study relating graphing calculator use patterns to achievement, researchers found that:

  • Students demonstrated higher levels of math performance when a graphing calculator was used.
  • There was a positive correlation between the residual gain scores and students using a classroom set of graphing calculators.
Reference: (Dimock and Sherron 2004)

SRI International
A 12% higher level of math achievement was explained by (in order):

  • Student use of a graphing calculator.
  • Student ownership of a graphing calculator.
  • Student access and use of a classroom set of graphing calculators.
  • Student familiarity in graphing more than one function.
  • Teacher familiarity in writing a program using the graphing calculator.
  • Connecting graphing calculators to motion detectors, computers or other graphing calculators.
Reference: Center for Technology in Learning (2007), Why is having access to portable handheld devices in a teacher’s own math classroom better than going to an ICT suite?” Research Note 11, Menlo Park, CA

Conclusion:  While a longer duration spent using graphing calculators may increase learning, quality of use counts more than duration.

Michigan State University
A review of 43 key comparative and interpretive studies examined this issue. The review concluded:

  • Length of usage time affects the impact on learning.
  • Quality of use counts more than quantity of use: Students whose teachers illustrated connections between representations and emphasized concepts had greater success with less time of use than did students whose teacher focused only on technological and algebraic approaches.
Reference: (Burrill, Allison et al. 2002)


Virginia Commonwealth University
A peer-reviewed meta-analysis of 54 studies with the strongest form of evidence, high-quality experimental and quasi-experimental studies found inconclusive results:

  • Both positive and negative effects on conceptual understanding were related to time of use.
Reference: (Ellington 2003)

Conclusion:  Calculus students with year-long access to graphing calculators used a wider range of problem-solving strategies, attempted more questions, and obtained higher scores than those with less or no access.
"Below average" students made more frequent use of a graphical approach to problems and scored significantly higher.

University of Trier
A study in the Netherlands compared the performances of Calculus students in 12 classes who were randomly assigned to one of the three conditions: (1) no access to graphing calculators (control group), (2) access during one unit, and (2) access for one year. Results showed that students with year-long access to graphing calculators used a wider range of problem-solving strategies, attempted more questions, and obtained higher scores than those with less or no access. Additionally, those students who were identified as "below average" by the researchers made more frequent use of a graphical approach to problems (in contrast to a trial-and-error approach or algorithmic strategy) and scored significantly higher on the post-test.

Reference: (Harskamp, Suhre et al. 1998; Harskamp 2000)