What is a Graphing Calculator?

Lorna W.

A graphing calculator is an advanced calculator that allows the user to graph equations in addition to performing the calculation functions of a scientific calculator. They are used most often in upper level math classes, such as trigonometry and calculus, but they are also necessary for some advanced science courses. Public schools often provide these calculators for student use, but it is often more convenient for students to purchase one of their own.

Many handheld calculators are equipped with tools for trigonometric functions.
Many handheld calculators are equipped with tools for trigonometric functions.

The most prominent feature of a graphing calculator is its LCD screen. This allows the calculator to display graphs, but it also serves as a screen for all other functions. It lets the user track her calculations and find potential errors better than other calculators because she can see all of the numbers she enters.

A graphing calculator allows the user to type in any equation and see it graphed on the x,y axis. The user may enter several equations and use the graphs to determine coordinates like points of intersection. In most cases, she can set the size of her graph and zoom in and out to expand it beyond the limits of a piece of graph paper. The calculator also allows students to graph equations that are too difficult and time consuming to produce by hand.

With a special screen attachment and an overhead projector, a teacher can display his or her calculator screen to an entire class. This gives the device a distinct advantage over other types of calculators when used to explain new operations to students.

A graphing calculator usually can be connected to another calculator or a computer to transfer data, such as programs and equations. Unlike other calculators, it has memory that allows it to store these programs and equations.

Some students will even use these calculators to play games. The same functions that allow users to create and share mathematical programs also allow for simple entertainment programs.

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