Dallas-based Texas Instruments’ latest generation of calculators is getting a modern-day update with the addition of programming language Python.
The goal is to expand students’ ability to explore science, technology, engineering and math through the device that’s all-but-required in the nation’s high schools and colleges.
Founded in 1930, Texas Instruments has been supplying students with innovative calculators since the popularization of the devices began. Though most of the company’s $14 billion in annual revenue comes from semiconductors, its graphing calculator remains its most recognized consumer product.
This latest TI-84 model, priced between $120 to $160 depending on the retailer, was made to accommodate the increasing importance of programming in the modern world.
Peter Balyta, president of TI Education Technology, said as STEM becomes even more important in everyday life, coding should be considered a must for the next generation. He said programming languages are exactly that — second languages.
“I believe STEM skills are absolute survival skills and really our future depends on kids being STEM smart,” Balyta said.
Python has become one of the most popular coding languages at universities, Balyta said, and now students can learn it early with “the same dedicated, distraction-free tool that they already use in math and science class.”
Python has shot up in popularity because of its wide range of uses, and it’s considered one of the easiest programming languages to learn. Python is used by hobbyists and professionals alike, and it’s free and open source, making it accessible to anyone with computer access.
Texas Instruments incorporated Python to provide students with fun and creative ways to learn, Balyta said. Students can use Python to do things like create small games and even program a robotic car, he added.
“Programming is the interface, and that is very important, but we want them to be able to invent and create things, and we want them to do it early,” Balyta said.
Educators need to bridge the gap between the meanings of “real world” to teachers and students by shifting from models that focus on repetition to those that foster creative potential, Balyta said.
“It needs to be fun, we need to help open kids’ eyes to the fun of learning STEM. That’s the opposite of ‘drill and kill,’ for example,” Balyta said.
Along with the addition of Python, the new model of calculator will also have familiar features like durability, a long-lasting battery and a full-color screen. The device is also approved to use on college entrance exams as well as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests.
More and more schools have already begun incorporating computer programming into classrooms. In 2016, the College Board introduced the Advanced Placement class Computer Science Principles with hopes of enticing more women and people of color into coding. The organization has already offered two other computer science courses since 1988.
Demand for more computer science courses continues to grow, but a 2019 report from Code.org and the Computer Science Teachers Association showed that just 45% of high schools offer them.
Balyta said Texas Instruments is excited to see how students put Python to use.
“I don’t know what they’re gonna do, and I really can’t wait to see what they do this school year,” Balyta said.