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Pocket-sized problem solver

With the line blurring between calculators and pocket computers, knowing your way around an advanced calculator is not always easy. Some calculators have more computing power than the first mainframe computers which used to fill a room.

Now Casio has recruited a teaching consultant, Fiona Crooks, to help maths advisers and teachers learn how to use calculators.

Casio's FX-9750G graphic calculator (about pound;40 plus VAT) is one of the latest graphic calculators. Designed for both A-level and GCSE students, it has 26 kilobytes of memory, 759 functions and 50 buttons. It allows data to be instantly displayed as a graph on the LCD screen, which offers a 21-character, 8-line display.

Despite its complexity, the calculator is quite easy to operate. A series of on-screen icons represent various functions (for example, making calculations, storing graphs or creating tables).

This model has useful features, such as an automatic power-off if the calculator is not used after a pre-set time. There is also a data link (via an optional adaptor), which allows the calculator to be connected to a computer or other external device for transferring data (in both directions). A student could say, collect data from a temperature sensor and put it into the calculator to display the results as a graph or table. The display shows both calculation and result.

The calculator comes with a 420-page manual. Most maths teachers will be able to handle functions such as creating a dual graph or calculating complex numbers, but how about in-putting a recursion formula and generating a table?

Guy Fletcher, Casio's education product manager, says: "Teachers have limited time for learning how to use a graphic calculator." So Fiona Crooks will be on hand to travel around Britain and help teachers get to grips with graphic calculators. The service is free.

The training includes an introduction to graphic calculators, advanced statistics and programming. Casio also supplies teacher packs, and a magazine, Keystroke, which offers ideas and activities, and has a helpline and website.

"Calculators are an adjunct, not a replacement for maths learning or an easy way out," says Mr Fletcher. "The time saved can be used to explain the concept behind the exercise," he points out.

* Casio tel: 0181 450 9131 Helpline: 0181 208 9500 website: Fiona Crooks tel: 0181 450 9131 Stand G20

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