If you’re entering middle school, or high school, and you’ve been told you need to get a scientific calculator for your math classes, you might be freaking out about now. All those buttons, and functions, and things you can’t identify are kind of overwhelming. We’ve pulled together information to help you not only better understand using a scientific calculator, but to help you find the best scientific calculator for your needs, as well.
First, let’s start with an understanding of what a calculator is, and why they came into existence.
A Short History of the Calculator
The long history of the calculator can be traced back to the abacus, a hand operated counting machine that uses beads on rods. This device was first employed by the Egyptians and Sumerians around 2000 BCE. This revolutionary tool sped up the counting and subtracting process by using multiple rows of beads to represent tens, hundreds, thousands, and so on. This concept was so effective that people found no need for the technology to change from nearly 3,600 years.
The next development towards the modern calculator came about in the 17th century AD. This development was called the slide ruler. The slide ruler is a sliding stick that uses logarithmic scales to allow the user to do rapid multiplication and division. Later developments with the slide rule allowed for its use in square roots, exponents, logarithms, and trigonometry. The first calculator that made use of mechanical function was created in 1642. This device was invented by French mathematician Blaise Pascal. This machine utilized geared wheels, and could add and subtract two numbers by direct input. By the utilization of repetition, the machine could be used to multiply and divide, as well.
The next innovation in calculating machines was that of a four-function device. This invention came about in 1820: Thomas de Colmar’s Arithmometer. The first commercially viable counting device would not be manufactured until 1851. The next great innovation in calculating machines came about in 1887, when Dorr E. Felt made a calculating device that could be operated by push buttons. Next, electronic calculators began their life in the 1930s, as the world faced the impending likelihood of another war. Two war time needs really drove the development of an electronic computing device. The first need was making the use of anti-aircraft and bombers more effective. The second reason was the growing challenge of code breaking. These needs led to the first all-electronic computer called Colossus.
Then, in 1948, a pocket-sized version of the mechanical calculator was released. This new machine was called the Curta Calculator. The world’s first completely electronic desktop calculator was released in 1961. This device was called ANITA, which stood for A New Inspiration To Arithmetic/Accounting. The calculator used push button key technology mixed with vacuum and cold cathode tubes. For three years this sold without competition until transistor driven calculators appeared. At this point, numerous companies around the world released a series of transistor driven calculators. Innovations came from different companies in different countries. Toshiba, for example, created the Toscal BC-1411 which utilized an early form of RAM. From the Italian manufacturer, the Programma 101 could read and write to magnetic cards and used a built in printer to display computations.
These innovations led up to a company called Texas instruments releasing a landmark device in 1967. This device was called the Cal Tech. This was a calculator that could do a multitude of functions while being compact enough to be hand held.
Types of Calculators
There are a number of calculator types.
There are, of course, also a variety of online calculators with specific functions, such as pregnancy, BMI, water, and calorie calculators. Each of these specifically functional calculators meet very specific needs with algorithms programmed into them to find the correct results. While all types of calculators can serve incredibly important functions, today, we’re focusing on scientific calculators.
What is a Scientific Calculator?
Scientific calculators are hand-held calculators which are designed for aiding in solving problems in mathematics, science, and engineering. Commonly, most people are first exposed to these types of calculators in middle and high school, while taking various mathematics courses.
Defining features commonly found in scientific calculators include:
- Logarithmic functions
- Trigonometric functions
- Scientific Notation
- Floating Point Arithmetic
- Roots and Exponential Functions beyond the square root
- Fraction Calculations
- Unit Conversion
They are designed for use in various math types such as:
- Algebra 1 and 2
How to Use a Scientific Calculator
When taking higher level mathematics, students will find that a scientific calculator becomes an important tool for time efficiency. However, if you have previously only used a standard, or “normal” calculator, you may feel a little intimidated by the various buttons and functions on a scientific calculator. For help with overcoming this intimidation, you can look online for help. A tutorial, or step-by-step manual would offer ways for you to become better acquainted with, and proficient with your scientific calculator.
1. Identify the Functions on Your Calculator
The first step in overcoming the intimidation with any new device is identifying the functions of the device. With a scientific calculator, that means identifying which buttons serve which purpose. If you’re gearing up for a Trigonometry or Calculus class, you need to know which buttons will lead you to the functions you need for those classes.
Function keys on your scientific calculator cover basic math functions from addition and subtraction to square roots and working with exponents. Your calculator should come with some kind of instruction booklet that will lead you to the right functions. If not, try looking online for a visual diagram of the buttons for the specific model of scientific calculator you’ve purchased.
2. Understand the Order for Use
The next step in using your scientific calculator is understanding which order you will need to press the keys of your calculator. Depending on the model of calculator, there are two types of input orders you may have to use.
The first order is entering the numbers you’re working with first, and then choosing the function the calculator should perform. The second order is the opposite of that, in which you choose the function first, and then enter the numbers.
3. Test Out the Calculator
Next, you’ll need to test out the calculator to get a better understanding and feel for the device. You don’t want to show up to class without trying out the calculator, and wind up falling behind because you’re still trying to figure things out.
In testing the calculator out, input two numbers. An easy test to perform is seeking the square root of nine. Or, another easy test is finding the power of a number.
The Best Scientific Calculators on the Market
Now that you have a basic understanding of how to use a scientific calculator, the next step is finding the right one for you. We’ve pulled together a list of options. Each calculator is ranked highly among real life users on sites like Amazon.
Peruse the list, and see if any of the calculators spark a particular interest.
The Casio fx-300ES PLUS is a highly rated scientific calculator that’s designed for students in middle and high school. It’s got a solar-plus battery that’s supposed to give the device an extra long calculating life. The Casio fx-300ES PLUS also features over two hundred features and calculations. This calculator is approved for use on the ACT, SAT, AP, and PSAT/NMSQT exams.
Other features included in this calculator include simplified fractions and roots, a repeating decimal display and prime factorization. This calculator from Casio also allows the user to perform combinations and permutations. The display itself is designed to show expressions and results exactly as they would appear in a textbook. Another great feature of the Casio fx-300ES PLUS is a multi-replay function which allows the user to backtrack step by step through the calculation processes allowing for the ability to change expressions and recalculate answers.
Another highly rated scientific calculator is the Casio fx-300MS. Features include:
- A two-line display
- A multi-replay function
- 240 different functions
- 9 variable memories.
With a solar panel strip with backup battery, you won’t need to change on the Casio fx-300MS even after prolonged use at school or work. Reviews of this product were very positive. The reliability of this particular model was praised by a customer who had bought the same model 19 years ago and still used it till today. Whenever they needed another calculator this is the model they would turn to purchase. Several other customers had stories of having a copy of this product for over ten years and putting it to daily use with no issues. Repeat customers, and those using the same product for nearly two decades speaks pretty highly of any kind of product, let along a mechanical device that gets used often.
- Scientific text book display WHT
- Design that delivers High availability, scalability, and for maximum flexibility and price/performance
- Made in China
Casio FX300ESPLSWE is another highly rated scientific calculator from Casio. It’s a calculator that’s designed to deliver on maximum function, flexibility, and affordability.
A major feature of the Casio FX300ESPLSWE is that it has a natural textbook display where expressions can be entered as they are written in textbook. This can be used with a wide range of coursework such as general math, biology, statistics, and geometry. Reviewers of the product gave the calculator five stars and praised the calculator’s features. One reviewer said that this calculator was perfect for a middle school program. Another reviewer said that they were excited to have a calculator that utilized variable logic.
- Adds, subtracts, multiplies, and divides fractions entered in traditional numerator/denominator format
- Performs trigonometric functions, logarithms, roots, powers, reciprocals, and factorials. Polar/rectangular conversions
- Battery powered; slide case included
The Texas Instruments TI-30Xa has an “old school” keyboard that will enable you to properly calculate the various equations you’re working with. The TI-30Xa has been called handsome, durable, and excellent, for the reasonable price found online. The TI-30Xa is very adequate for trigonometry, algebra, chemistry, calculus, and physics, with the Sin, Cos, Tan, Pi, and Hyp keys easy to access and view.
Professors love this calculator for their students who need an easy-to-understand, easy-to-use machine that will do all the calculations needed. For those who have had issues with solar powered machines, the TI-30Xa is your solution on that, too. Powered by batteries, this calculator won’t let you down. If you need a user-friendly, durable scientific calculator with an excellent design, you definitely want to consider this one.
- 2-line display, Fraction calculations, Integration calculations, Combination and Permutation
- Base-n calculations / conversions, Logical operations, Complex number calculations, CALC memory, Engineering symbol...
- Statistics(STAT-data editor, Standard deviation, Normal distribution calculations, Regression analysis)
The Casio fx-115MS PLUS SR is a highly rated scientific calculator intended for use by students of math and science at all levels. It’s intended for use at home or the office. The Casio fx-115MS PLUS SR calculator features a two-line display which exhibits ten digits in large numerals to help the user more easily keep track of what they are working on.
The fx-115MS PLUS SR also features 279 built in mathematical functions with the capability for the user to program custom formulas for future use. The layout of the fx-115MS PLUS SR makes this a pragmatic calculator to both use and own. Most reviews of this Casio calculator were positive, especially when it comes to durability and functionality. As with reviews for the other Casio scientific calculators, there were multiple reviews from people who had purchased the calculator over ten years ago and have had no issues with it despite day to day use.
Our Final Say on Scientific Calculators
As with most consumer products today, there are more options for scientific calculators than you could possibly sort through in a month.
So, ultimately, you need to understand what your budget is, and the types of functions you’ll need.
You should always read real reviews from genuine people before making any purchases, especially online, and verify that your top choice is the quality you require.
We think our suggestions for the best scientific calculators are top-notch, but we still encourage you to look on your own. Try searching Amazon or another retailing site for “the best scientific calculator” and see what options you find.