In the 1970s, electronic games began to emerge as an exciting new form of entertainment that was quickly embraced by the nation’s youth. Arcades were no longer rooms containing pool tables and pinball machines, but now allowed for a rousing game of Pong and a few other modern marvels. The Atari game system even allowed this emerging technology to become available from the comforts of home. With the kids completely enthralled by everything electronic, it was even possible to sneak in an educational game or two under the radar. One of the more successful ones was the Little Professor, a handheld device that taught math to unsuspecting kids.
Texas Instruments, who had long been recognized as a leading calculator manufacturer, came out with the Little Professor in 1976. The front of the device depicted a kindly old professor that appeared to have his nose buried in a book. An LED display at the top appeared to be a window into the professor’s advanced brain functions and allowed users see what the professor was thinking. While it might have appeared to be a calculator, however, it didn’t actually give you any answers. Kids would do the grunt work, figuring out various math problems, then enter the answers into the device which would give them points for a correct answer or display a dreaded “EEE” when they had miscalculated. Packed with 16,000 individual problems, this simple handheld device tested them in the areas of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, and offered five different levels of increased difficulty – ensuring that up-and-coming Einsteins had their work cut out for them if they wanted to please the old man.
Kids loved these devices and they sold quite well throughout the 70s and 80s. In fact, Texas Instrument still manufactures a newer version of the Little Professor to this day, having given the professor’s brain an update or two, along with a new digital display to replace the old LED readout. The company also managed a few other popular educational toys along the way, including the Speak & Spell and Speak & Math – each taxing the brains of little ones – all under the deceptive guise of fun with technology.
For it only takes a bit of ingenuity to get kids to enjoy learning on their own. Distract them with a bunch of buttons and flashing lights and they might just aspire to become that rocket scientist you always dreamed they would be, or at least not get that deer-in-the-headlights look when trying to calculate your change at McDonalds. Thanks, Little Professor, for making the world a better place for everyone.
Tags: Games and Puzzles