Before we begin, I’d like to explain a few things. First, I’ll be using a TI-84 Plus Silver Edition, because it’s the recommended calculator for my math courses. However, the software provided by TI claims to work with all of their calculators. The file editor I use only works for TI83/84, but I’m sure there’s something similar out there for the TI-89. Second, it’s perfectly possible to type up your information on your calculator, but given the layout of the keyboard and the requirement to either be in text mode or number mode (when most formulas require both, even “3t” requires switching modes), it’s quite cumbersome and annoying. Third, check to make sure this isn’t against cheating policies – while it is inherently different from bringing in a cheat sheet or having knowledge of the content of the test ahead of time, having any form of outside help may be considered cheating.
The goal here is to utilize the calculator’s ability to store programs. We’re not actually going to be programming, but we’ll use a program to store our notes. Programs can be written on the computer and transferred to the calculator, and then edited on the calculator, allowing you to see the contents. Open up TI-Coder, name your program (note that the name will be what appears on the calculator’s list) and type up whatever notes you want in the right panel. If you need special characters, use either the list or keypad module to access the functions you can use on your calculator. When you’re done, hit save and put your program on your desktop.
In case you were wondering, here’s why we can’t use a regular text editor like Notepad to do this job. TI uses a file extension of “.8xp” on their programs. It appears that the file format encodes characters in some odd way so that the calculator can read them – if you open up a file in Notepad, you’ll find that most of the characters are odd Unicode symbols.
It’s a good idea to split up notes in different programs by some kind of category, because the calculator screen is very small and you’ll have to scroll up and down a lot to access information. At this point, you can plug in your calculator and open TI Connect.
Within TI Connect, select the icon on the top-left that says “TI Device Explorer”. A window should pop up showing that your calculator is connected via USB, press Select, and the TI Device Explorer should open up.
You can now drag your .8xp file(s) from your desktop into the TI Device Explorer. It will take a few seconds to transfer, the device is pretty slow. However, once it’s done, you can disconnect your calculator and hit the PRGM button. Select Edit, and then choose the file you want. Press Enter, and you should see whatever notes you typed up on your calculator. Good luck on your test!
Beware of the “CLEAR” button. Hitting it once while a line is highlighted will erase that line, with no way to get it back because the TI calculator isn’t a real text editor. If you’re worried about being caught with this information, remember that a quick and easy way to delete everything in your program memory (and potentially other work you have saved on the calculator like recent calculations) is to hit the blue “2ND” button, then the “+” symbol to access the memory management menu. Choose option 7, which is “Reset”, and then choose option 1 which is “All RAM”. You’ll be warned that this will erase data and programs, which is exactly what you want to do. Choose Reset, and you’ll be shown a message that RAM was cleared. You should practice doing this quickly in case you’re caught in a bad situation.
Worried about your students using this method for cheating? In the section above I explained how to clear all programs out of the memory of the calculator. After doing this, a dialog box appears showing that all RAM was indeed cleared. If you so choose, you can require students to follow those steps and show you the “Memory Cleared” dialog box before you give them their test. After that, anything they enter into their calculator will have to be from their own memory. If you have a large class or this is unfeasible, you can choose random students and check their calculators’ program lists. The threat of possibly being targeted will reduce the number of students attempting to bring in outside information. That being said, your students will dislike you for it, but realistically they already should dislike you for requiring them to use a TI product.
Note: I do not provide technical support for the TI Coder software. If you are having difficulty using it or receive an error message, please contact TI directly. Comments about technical issues will not be approved.