Tapping into mathematics
Tapping into mathematics

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

Tapping into mathematics

7 Mathematical functions

7.1 Introduction

As you have probably observed, there are many mathematical functions on your calculator, but most users only need to use a few of them regularly. This is an opportunity to be introduced to some of the more useful ones informally. Many functions are directly visible on the keys of the keyboard, but your calculator may have additional functions, e.g. on a MATH menu.

This section is designed to give you a whistle-stop introduction to some of the important functions on your calculator, but you are not expected to understand all the mathematical functions. Rather the aim is to give you an overview, which you will be able to build upon later.

The best way to explore a new calculator button is to try it out using very simple numbers. Some examples are included to get you started. Note down any insights you uncover about what these keys do. Also, do not forget to practise saying the names of the function – it is important to be able to talk mathematics as well as write it.

You may have noticed some mathematical jargon in the preceding pages; terms like the ‘square’ of a number and an ‘exponent’. Learning mathematical language is an important part of learning mathematics. The word ‘function’, in particular, is a much-used word in mathematics and it is worth thinking about for a few moments before moving on.

One way of thinking about a mathematical function is to imagine a processor with an input and an output, perhaps rather like the one shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2
Figure 2 A function represented as an input–output machine

A number is supplied to the input of the processor. Inside the processor it is converted to another number (do not worry for the moment about how this is done), and this new number is then delivered to the output. The function itself is the relationship between the input number and the output number.

In a sense, this is how the calculator operates. When a number is entered, it is displayed on the calculator's screen and treated as an input. You then select the particular processor you want by pressing the appropriate keys.

Pressing, say, 7 instructs the calculator to work out the square of the input, 7, and to display the result, 49, the output, on the screen.

MU120_4MCAL

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus