## It’s All About the Calculator

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February 11, 2022
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Everybody knows PEMDAS, the order of operations to solve equations: Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition and Subtraction. They are the building blocks of all mathematics. Now think back to middle school, you learned what PEMDAS was a couple of years ago and now it's time for the teachers to turn up the algebraic heat. You sit down with your algebraic calculator in Mr. Spofford’s 6th-grade class and he gives the whole class a pop quiz. Time is running down and this is the last question…

With not much time left, you have two options. You can simplify all the numbers line by line, take up half the page, get some partial credit and not finish in time OR you can plug it all into your TI-84 and hope that you got all your parenthesis and exponents right, write down your answer and get either full credit or no credit. Neither option is ideal.

What if I told you there was a calculator you could use that is faster than my old TI-84. Well, there is, and it has been around since the time of DESKTOP calculators. That's right, even when calculators looked like the photo above, they had already figured out how to make them faster, more accurate and (since this was the 1960’s) reduce the computing power needed.

This legendary method of solving math problems is called Reverse Polish Notation or RPN. This method is mostly used by HP, and it has been that way since the 1960’s. With RPN, there is no need to use parathesis and it requires fewer keystrokes than its algebraic calculator counterparts. RPN allows you to solve each section individually, store them in a stack, then combine them at the end. As the math problems get more difficult, the chances of making a mistake on an RPN calculator are less than an algebraic one. You no longer have to input a long and complicated equation full of parathesis and hope that your algebraic calculator outputs the correct answer.

So, if this is so good, why isn’t everyone using it? Well, it has a bit of a learning curve. Many years ago, when I made the switch, it took me hours to reteach my brain. But once I got the hang of it, math classes became much easier, and I found myself making fewer calculator mistakes. These habits you form when you are younger stick with you, and if I find myself using an algebraic calculator now (which is very rare), I need to stop and think for a second. So if you are looking to learn a new skill to become a little more efficient, the RPN calculator is for you.

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