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Making Calculations

Exhibition Piece: A mathematical logarithms book and slide rule used to be used by students rather than the readily available calculators we have today. It may look like a normal text book and ruler at first glance, but the method was in fact, very complicated.

By Ceri Johnson, Lead Practitioner, Maths; IVC

The way that students are taught mathematics has changed considerably in the 75 years since Impington Village College opened.  The advent of pocket calculators around 35 years ago meant that many of the common techniques for doing calculations became redundant.  Whereas previously lots of time had been spent in teaching students how to use complicated tables to perform approximations when calculating with large numbers, the electronic revolution enabled results to be achieved with a few button presses.

This is an example of a slide rule, which students would use as a way of readily multiplying or dividing numbers by aligning a scale on the central slide with another scale on the body of the instrument.

For more accurate calculations, a table of logarithms was used, which enabled more complicated calculations to be done to four places of accuracy.  Students would learn these procedures by rote; often having little understanding as to why the methods worked. 

It is amazing to think that most of the calculations done to plan the first mission to the moon, or to design a Boeing 747 were done using these methods. 

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