Back in 1985, Casio brought the first graphing calculator, the fx-7000G, to market. A short couple years later, I started college headed towards an engineering degree, and picked one up. Best education purchase I ever made.
It was mind-boggling to me at the time to have a calculator with a graphical LCD screen into which I could plug linear equations, and which would then graph them visually. I could trace back and forth through the curves and find the points of inflection or where they crossed a given axis. In short, the thing saw me through more than one advanced calculus class, because while everyone else was punching numbers madly via reverse Polish notation, I was interacting with math graphically. It was a piece of the future.
Fast forward to now. Interestingly, scientific calculators themselves haven’t changed all that much over the years. For one reason – in education, they have to be pretty locked-down to make sure people taking standardized tests can’t cheat with them like they can with wirelessly-connected phones and tablets. For another reason, they are excellent at their very specific set of tasks. But Casio’s new PRIZM seems to be taking a leap forward.
In many ways, it’s not all that different from the fx-7000G I had back in the Stone Age. It has all the basic scientific calculator functions. It’s programmable. It does all that cool graphing stuff I used alongside my chisel and stone tablet test booklet. But there are a couple of really cool new twists. For example, the screen is now color. Not a huge deal, but nice. However, now you can import images into the calculator, and that’s where things get all futuristic.
The cool thing is this: you can import a picture into the calculator, and then overlay points on the image to find the equation of any line or curve on the picture. While that may be something achievable with a computer and some very specific software, it’s not something a hand-held calculator could do, until now.
There’s more of course. It has a basic spreadsheet functionality. It’ll mount as a storage device on your computer (Windows only for the included software, sadly). And there are higher-level classroom tools for using them with math curricula. On the other hand, it’s not actually going to impress your kids. In the age of iPhones and Androids, the interface is like a last-generation Blackberry (not a slam at Casio, though it might be at RIM). But as an educational tool, it’s pretty neat, and since you can find them for under $100 without a 2-year cell plan, it’s a piece of technology that your kids could carry with them through high school and college. 20-something years later, I still have my fx-7000G, and it still works like a piece of the future.