Thursday, October 23, 2014

The changing face of the math class...

Have you heard about the new app called PhotoMath?  You can scan over an equation and the app will solve it for you... it will even show the steps in solving!

I added the free app to an iPad that we have available at school, grabbed an Algebra 2 book, and tried it out.  My observations:
1. The app doesn't support hand-written equations. So that takes out the option for the kids to scan their homework. (A teacher here discovered that it won't scan a computer screen either, which removes our kids use of it with their MathXL assignments.)
2. It has a pretty large scanning window which makes it hard to scan any specific equation. And it sees the problem number as a part of the equation, which obviously changes things. (Thanks to Dan Anderson, who informed me that you can change the size of the viewing window, making it more precise.)
3. The app is very quick to show the solution to the equation (I was wondering what kind of lag or solving time there would be) and offers the option to show the steps involved.
4. It appears to only support linear equations; I tried a quadratic, an absolute value, and an inequality with no luck.

So my summation? It's pretty cool but very limited. It would be helpful in an Algebra 1 classroom for a few weeks, but that's about it.

I'm sure there are math teachers scared by this technology... but is it offering anything new that students haven't had available to them before?  WolframAlpha has been around for years and will solve all kinds of equations, including absolute values and power equations. For a nominal fee ($3.75/month for students, $5.49/month for adults) you can even get step-by-step instructions.

And yet if you google "PhotoMath app" it's showing up on a lot of different news sites right now. People see this as another way for students to cheat.

So let's assume that kids start using this app. What can math teachers do to combat it?
1. Stop grading homework. (That's hard for me to say, honestly.) Are the kids legitimately doing it? Or are they googling the answers? Or copying from a friend?  (C'mon, we've all done it.)

2. I've become a big believer in the use of formative assessments; warm-ups, exit slips, quick checks of understanding during class. Make the students accountable for what you expect them to know.

3. Assignments need to change. Don't let the kids' homework tell you what they can do. Make them tell you. Make them explain how they solve a problem. Give them the steps and the answers and make them justify everything.

4. Apply the learning. It took a student-teacher of mine for me to see the light. I like doing the math just to do the math, but most people (especially teenagers!) aren't that crazy about it. Help the kids see how much math they're doing every day without even thinking about it.

Just my $0.02.

(And I can always count on Dan Meyer to put it in words better than I can!)

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