How the Computer Algrebra System (CAS) and the ClassPad Changed the Game

Have you ever wondered how the Casio ClassPad came to be? The ClassPad is a fusion of ideas and pre-existing machines. Perhaps the most interesting of the pre-existing machines is the Casio Cassiopeia of the 1990s. It is a dark horse, but fascinating nonetheless.

The Casio Cassiopeia was one of the world’s earliest PDAs that used a stylus. What is a PDA? PDA was a widely used 90s acronym that stood for personal digital assistant. A PDA was a PC in your hand – you just know it now as a smartphone!

The Casio Cassiopeia ran Windows CE and had the dual focus of being a tiny, teeny PC as well as taking care of your calculating needs. What was most amazing, was that you could insert an SD card into the machine which held third party apps. Take for instance, the Geometer’s SketchPad, by Key Curriculum Press Technologies. Using the stylus on such a small device was not without its challenges, but to digitally manipulate geometric constructions at that time was revolutionary.

For whatever reason the Casio Cassiopeia was not a commercial success.

In the late 1990s, some students and teachers in the mathematics education space were already using graphing calculators, like those that led to the Casio fx-CG50AU. Very few were using CAS, but there were some pioneers thinking about the potential value of CAS in a learning context. Dynamic Geometry systems were in use, particularly in the US and soon after in France, with the creation of Cabri. It was the early days of the electronic technology revolution in the education space. Of course, all these applications ran mainly on PCs but there was already interest in making such things possible on small, cheap hand-held “calculators”.

Only a handful of computer algebra systems existed, and it was a similar situation for dynamic geometry systems, so Casio decided to create their own.

Casio’s CAS was first seen on CFX-9970G and the Algebra 2.0 in 1996. Both machines are graphing calculators at heart. Neither machines were ideal for seamless use of CAS, and a long way from ideal for use of a dynamic geometry system.

Plans were afoot for a device with a much larger screen (more like the Cassiopeia) that was tailored to school use (unlike the Cassiopeia). The device would become known as the ClassPad.

In 2003, the ClassPad 300 was released. It boasted a large touch screen with stylus. The stylus allowed a method entry and interaction that could not be matched by pressing keys. It was more mouse than keys, an extension of one’s finger. It was sublime, and it made using a dynamic geometry system on a handheld device genuinely possible. 

It was not long before the Classpad 300 became a popular machine in areas around the world where CAS was permitted in senior school examinations. Since then, the ClassPad has continued to develop. Today, the 330 Plus is the Zenith, combining functionality and usability like never before.

Users of the Classpad had long been wishing for a “colour” screen and in 2013 their prayers were answered with the release of the fx-CP400.

The Casio ClassPad fx-CP400’s screen was not only colour, but it also had a much higher resolution than its predecessor, 320 x 528 pixels. It was a revelation and remains a much loved and used tool to this day.