The Color of Numbers
In a move that’s sure to be copied by its competitors, Casio integrates a brilliant color screen into its Prizm fx-CG10 graphing calculator, transforming it into a visual teaching machine. The result is like night and day with the best calculator interface, easy to read characters and the ability to use color to show different functions side by side. It’s not perfect, but a big step forward for the way science and technology will be taught.
The eye is drawn naturally to the calculator’s colorful screen, which is every bit as bright and rich as what’s on portable game machines and smart-phones. At 3.2-inches, it is 27 percent larger than the display on the Texas Instruments TI-84 calculator. Rather than showing dull shades of gray, the fx-CG10 can display a palette of more than 65,000 colors. This splash of color is perfect for showing several related functions next to each other or linking a chart of numbers with graphs based on color.
It can also do something that no other calculator can do: make math more visually exciting. The calculator can superimpose a meaningful picture over a plot to help students understand that much of math has to do with shapes. For example, a physics class examining arches can superimpose an arch over data showing the stresses that a bridge might encounter or a math class can put a Fibonacci sequence over a nautilus snail shell image. Called PicturePlot, there are 55 different images available, from a roller coaster to a pendulum. Unfortunately, you can’t add your own images.
Like the TI-80-series, the fx-CG10 can handle just about any math task thrown at it, from conical sections, matrices and parametrics to statistics and financial equations. It can do trigonometric calculations, fractions and work with 28 variables. It’s pretty complicated, and thankfully has an undo button when you make an entry error.
The fx-CG10 can run all sorts of programs, but it lacks a devoted community of software developers who are trying to outdo each other. This might be a matter of time, however.
You might think that with a color screen, the fx-CG10 might be big and ponderous compared to the standard graphing calculator. It isn’t. In fact, its footprint is comparable to the TI-84 Plus but a bit thinner. At 8 ounces, it’s nearly an ounce lighter. It comes with a plastic cover that matches its black and brushed aluminum case.
Like the TI-84 Plus, it uses 4 AAA batteries, but the color screen is a power hog. Thanks to aggressive power conservation, Casio says the batteries should last for 140 hours – or roughly a third of a school year of daily use. If you like rechargeable batteries, it can use Nickel Metal Hydride cells, but expect to get less life out of them.
The fx-CG10 sets the pace with nothing short of the best keypad on a calculator anywhere. In contrast to TI’s Chicklet keys, the Casio calculator has large curved numerical and operation keys as well as smaller oval buttons above. It’s a quick study to learn to use. One faux pas is the circular control pad for navigation, which works well, but the center button doesn’t actuate the selection; you need to press the EXE button in the lower right corner.
It all works well, but the key entry sequences can feel unfamiliar, and frustrating at first. It’s a good idea to have the manual on hand for some trial and error work.
To help teachers and students alike adapt to the new calculator, Casio has produced a slew of curriculum material that’s aligned with state standards and popular textbooks. There’s also a mini USB cable for connecting the calculator with a PC, so the whole class can see via a large screen monitor or projector.
What it lacks is a way for teachers to share lessons and insights with each other. The calculator is approved for use on the ACT, PSAT, SAT and AP exams.
Just as basic calculators replaced slide rules in the 1980s, only to be replaced by graphing calculators in the 2000s, we are at a colorful crossroads. China’s Mao Zedong supposedly once said that once you watch a color TV, you’ll never go back to black and white. The same is even truer for calculators.
+ Excellent color screen
+ Great keypad
+ Curriculum add-ins
+Variety of functions
- Unfamiliar input sequences
- No online community