Another look at Microsoft Mathematics

I have had a few days to play around with this software, and my initial enthusiasm has been somewhat diminished. It has many powerful features, including the equation solver I mentioned previously that will list the steps. But it falls short for use in the Physics classroom for a number of reasons:

  1. No regression analysis. It will plot a set of data points, but won’t create a line or curve of best fit. Have to use Excel for that.
  2. No vector addition, except as coordinates or matrices.
  3. Area under a linear function – useful for displacement and Work, not there.
  4. Here’s a biggie – powers of ten are treated as simple multiplication.

Let me elaborate on that last point. Every year I run into the same issue with students not knowing how to use their calculator correctly, and making technical calculation errors as a result. One of the big ones is they enter scientific notation as 1.6 x 10^6, instead of using 1.6E6. The difference is in the order of operations; 1/1.6E6 = 0.000000625, while 1/1.6 x 10^6 = 625000. Try it yourself.

Microsoft Mathematics has a built in “*10^” button, but it does not behave the same as the E button on the calculator, meaning it is prone to the same kind of errors. (The image shows what happens when you enter 1/1.6[*10^]6 using the “*10^” button.)

So as a tool in my classroom, I think its use will be limited. A shame really, I kind of had high hopes for it.

One thought on “Another look at Microsoft Mathematics

  1. Andy Rundquist

    When I first got my ipod touch I really wanted a calculator for it where you could see your input (like a TI graphing calculator, for example). I’m cheap so I wanted a free one. There were a ton to choose from so I played with a bunch. I was amazed to find that none of them had an “EE” button or anything like it. I think there are some now that have it but often you have to hit two buttons to use it. I think the EE button is one of the most important buttons on a calculator so I’m frustrated at not having an easy one. Of course the built in calculator has one but you can’t see the expression you’re typing.
    I really like http://web2.0calc.com/
    I keep it as a bookmark and use it a lot. If you type “E” it’ll work as an EE button.

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