Graphing Functions

Students at all levels of algebra and calculus classes find it interesting and useful to be able to quickly graph many functions. You may use graphing calculators or computer programs to do this. Some free or low-cost computer programs are available and graphing calculators at costs varying from $50 to $150 may be used. Each program and calculator works slightly differently, so it is probably easiest to pick one and do all your work on it. These should get a student from algebra through a first-semester calculus course. (See comments below the lists.)

Getting started | Where to find these at ACC

 Graphing calculators:

Graphing software for PCs:

Graphing software for Macs:

Web Browser graphing software:


Software for PCs:

I have used Winplot for many years and like it. The only difficulty is that it isn't obvious how to start when you get it installed. The "help" information in the software itself is not very useful. Various people have written some additional help information. My brief introduction | Longer introduction | Orientation program (These are for earlier versions, but I think the basic functionality is still pretty much the same.)

I have seen the demo of an earlier verision of Pacfic Tech's program, which was NuCalc 2.0 and it was VERY NICE! It gave spectacular 3-dimensional graphs. It will do things as advanced as parametric inequalities in polar coordinates and the demo has some inequalities that produce very interesting patterns. I think that Graphing Calculator 3.2 is an upgrade of this.

Software for Macs:

John Thomason is an ACC professor who uses a Mac. Look at his page to see what he currently recommends.

Browser software:

This Java applet provides an easy way for you to graph a function without installing anything. John Thomason, who recommended this to me, says the following. "It's got a few quirks. To enter a function, don't type "y=" or "f(x)="; just type the function's formula. Also, (at least on my Mac) the Trace feature described wasn't available. And there is no Print feature. If you want to print a graph, you'll first have to do a Screen Capture or do a Print Screen. Other than that, it's fairly fast and very convenient."

Graphing calculators:

At ACC, we have TI calculators.

For whatever calculator you have, you definitely need access to the Manual. If you have misplaced your Manual, find it online. TI Manuals online are available from here. Choose Downloads >Guidebooks.

Usually the TI website has a comparison guide where you can easily compare the capabilities of all the currently-manufactured models.

The TI 84 is the newest version of the long-time most popular calculator for courses up through about calculus. The keyboard and main capabilities are the same as the older 83, 82, and 81. Each newer version has more features than the previous ones, but any of them are adequate for our courses. New calculators in this line cost from about $100 up to $140, depending on the advanced features.

The TI-89 (about $150) is a much different type, because it includes Computer Algebra System (CAS) capabilities and is generally considered a calculator more suitable for higher-level courses. It does include 3-D graphing. Because of those advanced capabilities, students are less likely to be allowed to use this on tests than the lower-level calculators.

The Voyage 200 has similar capabilities to the TI-89.

There are now several TI-Nspire calculators with different capabilities. Some have the Computer Algebra System (CAS) capabilities similar to the more advanced TI-89 and others do not. They cost around $150-$170. The strength of this line is mainly in more substantial editing capabilities, saving notes, and linking with other electronic devices than the other TI graphing calculators. All of these enhanced "sharing" capabilities may make teachers unwilling to let students use these during tests. As of August 2010, even the most advanced TI-Nspire does not include 3-D graphing, custom user-defined menus, and an organizer, which are included with the TI-89 and the Voyage 200.

The TI-86 is a upgrade of the older TI-85, which was recommended for higher level math classes and even engineering classes. This has been replaced by the TI-89, but a TI-86 or 85 calculator is still more than adequate for our courses.

The TI-74 is also a graphing calculator, but is not appropriate for calculus-level courses.

Casio has some lower-cost graphing calculators than TI. I don't know much about them.

If you already have a graphing calculator of any brand or model, don't buy another until you determine whether you really need the extra features of a newer one. If you don't have your Manual, please search online and find the electronic version of the Manual, so that you can look up instructions when you need to do that.

Last updated August 26, 2010 . Mary Parker.