Slide Rules

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Learners make their own simple slide rules out of paper and learn how they work. The activity starts by having learners make an "adding slide rule," which is not a very practical device but is easier to understand than the more common but more complicated multiplication slide rule. The adding slide rule uses a simple scale, while the multiplication slide rule uses a logarithmic scale. Background information is included about the history of this elegant mathematical invention: how it was invented hundreds of years ago, and how it was used until the 1970s when calculators replaced them. [Activity is publicly available through a web crawler capture on]

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Learning Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
1 cent - $1 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - adult

Resource Types:
Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan


Materials List (per group of students)

  • rulers
  • Copies of Master A, “Slide Rule” (in PDF)
  • scissors
  • masking tape
  • 2 transparent rulers, or 2 metersticks
  • one copy of Master B, pictures of Oughtred, Napier and NASA “computers” (in PDF)
  • one overhead transparency with Master A copied on it


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Computing
      • Information Technology
    • Engineering
      • Computer Engineering
    • Technology
      • Information and Communication
  • Mathematics
    • Algebra
      • Patterns
    • Number and Operations
      • Exponents
      • Multiples and Factors
      • Operations
    • Representation
  • The Nature of Technology
    • Technology and Society
      • Technology and History
    • The Design Process
      • Invention and Innovation


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



Funding Source:

  • National Science Foundation ESI, 0206403