I’ve now had a good time to work with the new HP39GII graphing calculator. It is exactly what you would want if you have been using HP39/40GS or a TI84 or a Casio FX9750 and you are ready for a really fast processor, tons of memory, a grey scale hi-resolution screen and batteries that last forever. The HP39/40GS series is a classic graphing calculator with a very smooth operating system built around apps all of which are controlled by the three ‘multiple representations’ keys … symbolic, plot and table. The HP39GII works in exactly the same way, so you know straight away what to do. But everything works really well. On the home screen calculations can be shown in textbook display with quotients and indices shown correctly. Divisions are shown fraction form where needed and an approx key comes up which converts to a decimal approximation. The graphing screen is superb. Clear smooth lines, clear dark axes and subtle grey grid lines. Pressing the + or – keys zooms in and out. Everything happens really fast.
A major new feature is the App notes. Teachers will want the activities set up for students use, so they can set up an app (say by creating an initial set of functions to explore) then create a notes page describing the activity and telling students what to do. On the app just choose to save, give it a name for the activity and then you have a new app set up as you want with full activity instructions to share out amongst the students. Superfast handheld activity authoring. Naturally teachers will use the free emulator to create the pages using a computer keyboard and then drag and drop onto the first calculator for sharing in class.
One of the critical features of a graphing calculator is accessibility and reliability. The teacher wants to trust that they can pick up the box of machines before the lessons and they will all work. The HP39GII still runs on standard AAA batteries (6 alkalines for 99p everywhere!) but there has been a major redesign in the power management. The batteries work in serial which means that it can even run on a single battery. It is reported that 6 months later they are still going strong.
I’ve started work on updating my activities pack to take account of the HP39GII features and show it’s screen shots, so look out for that. Also, I’m writing up my work from the cape Town trip to integrate teacher led GeoGebra activities with student activity on the HP39GII. Both of these should be ready for the official launch in June. The really good thing in these belt tightening times is that the HP39GII looks like it will be selling for less than the machines it replaces and much less than new machines from TI and Casio, so I am really hoping that this will encourage users of TI-84s and FX9750s to upgrade and build a community where we can develop and share materials and activities. Critically this is the way of getting ICT activity into the hands of students with no booking, no worries, but with a clear bright screen and well documented activities.
As an intriguing bonus, ICT teachers may be pleased to hear that it can be programmed using a language akin to C++, which has been extensively developed and documented (because the Chinese market saw this as a priority). Again, the development work will be done on the emulator for fast typing, but you now have a handheld programme test environment which works straight out of the box (just like the BBC micro that Eric Schmidt says gave us the lead in games software that government (rightly) thinks we can recover).
We will be offering nationwide training sessions to schools and ITE programmes and there will be extremely attractive prices for teachers to get a machine to play with. Look out for news of that. I am setting up a web site at www.hpgraphingcalcs.org which will hold all of the support materials and discussion threads for the new machine (and the older ones as well). That will be launching very soon.
See here for a view of the screen and the device: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxtSG8fzCsA
More screen shots and ready to buy in the Netherlands (in Dutch): Here
An HP discussion thread: Here
HP Product details: Here