Scientific Calculator Resource Guide

Calculators, especially scientific calculators, are as helpful as they are fun to use. A basic calculator covers most general math functions - addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Advanced math courses, which deal with more complex mathematics, generally require a scientific calculator. Scientific calculators can be a bit expensive, but the long-term assistance they provide is well worth the money spent. Scientific calculators do have more functions than their basic cousin, and require a bit more time to learn. However, once learned, a scientific calculator can be an invaluable tool, and can solve practically any mathematical problem.

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The earliest known version of a calculator was a device called an abacus. An abacus used rods with sliding beads to make arithmetic easier by presenting it visually. The next step towards calculators was a kind of ruler known as a slide rule, invented by William Oughtred in 1622. Inventors stumbled around for the next two centuries, trying to improve on the efficiency of the slide rule, and the first widely produced calculator (called the Arithmometer) arrived in 1820. The first electronic calculators were developed in 1961, and the first scientific calculator was developed and released in 1968.

  • History of the Slide Rule - Unlike calculators, slide rules don't need batteries or sunlight to work. Find out more about the history and development of this unique instrument.
  • The First Scientific Handheld Calculator - Take a look at the calculator that started it all with this online exhibit from HP (the company who built the calculator).
  • The First Handheld Calculator - The first basic function calculator rolled around in the early 1960's; learn more about its creation and see a picture of what it looked like, courtesy of Texas Instruments.
  • Learn to Use an Abacus - This nifty website not only has an online abacus, but also has a series of video lectures that demonstrate how to use the tool to perform mathematics.
  • Discover the Arithmometer - Check out the oldest surviving Arithmometer at the Smithsonian website. The website also describes how an Arithmometer was constructed and used, and explains who built it.


A scientific calculator has many more functions than the basic four of a regular calculator. For example, a scientific calculator can include scientific notation (a way of writing numbers that are too big to fit into a normal problem) within a larger sentence. Scientific calculators can also work with complex numbers, fractions, logarithms, and can calculate probability. Most scientific calculators will include a readout screen, so graphing problems can be solved with the machine as well.

  • Scientific Notation - Don't be scared off by all the zeros in 300,000,000. Scientific Notation makes it much easier to write, and the New York University has a webpage to teach you how.
  • What on Earth is a Logarithm? - The University of Utah can demystify what a logarithm is and how it's used. There is a step-by-step guide to writing a logarithm, and many examples to help further clarify the topic.
  • Who Wants Pizza? - This clever introduction to fractions from Rice University helps make them easier to understand. An online quiz on the webpage will help test your knowledge of fractions.
  • Probability for Middle School - Before the scientific calculator can be whipped out of the desk drawer, it's important to understand how probability works. This online lesson will explain what probability is, and how it can be measured.
  • Basic Statistics on a Scientific Calculator - Willamette University offers a great website on how to use a scientific calculator to complete its most basic functions. Topics covered include mean and standard deviation, data entry, and calculating.


Aside from the obvious (solving math problems), scientific calculators are used as teaching tools in high schools and colleges. Remember when using a calculator was forbidden on tests? Scientific calculators are actually required on some exams. However, once graduation is over with, the scientific calculator can travel even farther past the classroom to help with the complex calculations found in careers like engineering, chemistry, physics, and mechanics.

  • Using a Scientific Calculator - Got a new calculator, but don't know which button to push first? No worries - the Open University has a complete introduction to using a scientific calculator that provides step-by-step instructions as to how to use it to solve equations.
  • Use of the Scientific Calculator (PDF) - For students on the go, the Community College of Baltimore County has a PDF instructional on using a scientific calculator. It covers all major functions of the device, and students have the option to print out the PDF to study at their leisure.
  • Using Your Calculator - The bad news is that it's harder to visually move elements of an equation around on a scientific calculator. The good news is that the University of North Carolina has a few nifty shortcuts that can help make life (and calculating) easier.
  • Getting the Most Out of Your Scientific Calculator (PDF) - Let's assume that you already know the basics of using a scientific calculator. It may surprise you to learn that manufacturers have all sorts of shortcuts built into the calculator to make computing even easier than it already is. Concordia University has all the tips and tricks in one place to make sure you get the most mathematical bang for your buck.

Online Scientific Calculators

As mentioned before, scientific calculators can be expensive, and while they are convenient to have for class work, there's no need to go out and buy one to solve a problem. There are many online scientific calculators that are free to use!