Scary. Mysterious. Impossible. These might be words that come to mind when we think about…well, walking a tightrope across Niagara Falls. Calculus used to be described by those words a few hundred years ago, but those were *literally* the dark ages.

Imagining an instant in time is pretty tough, even for folks here at Shmoop HQ. Back before calculus was invented, talking about calculus and “moments in time” was reason enough to send someone to the stocks. Maybe hearing that makes us wish, a little, that H.G. Wells’ *Time Machine* were non-fiction.

Throughout your first calculus class, you’ll see lots of new symbols and notation. Don’t freak. Chances are no one else in your class has seen them before, either. It’s not a totally foreign place, though. There will still be lots of warm and fuzzy addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division to wrap up in. They haven’t changed one bit.

Calculus is actually pretty cool. It might not be stuff we all use on a day-to-day basis, but it plays a role in most aspects of daily life. From airplanes to cell phones, someone has used calculus to make some portion of the stuff we use all the time.

Hmm…calculus is starting to sound more useful. In algebra, if we add 2 apples to 3 apples, we can see 5 apples. However, concepts in calculus are often things we can’t actually see directly. For example, how fast does an apple hit the ground when dropping it from the Leaning Tower of Pisa? Can we salvage what apple remains?

Maybe calculus can’t solve everything that grandma’s apple sauce recipe can. However, it *does* come in handy for fields in science such as physics, chemistry, technology, and engineering.

Next Page: What is Calculus?