Bridging the Opportunity Divide

The Controversial Math App That Can Solve Equations Using a Smartphone Camera

November 4, 2014
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The Controversial Math App That Can Solve Equations Using a Smartphone Camera
PhotoMath reads and solves mathematical expressions by using the camera of your mobile device in real time. Facebook/PhotoMath
A math teacher's nightmare or an innovative learning tool?

Math homework will never be the same again.

The hot, new smartphone app PhotoMath allows a user to point their camera at a math equation in a textbook and solves it instantly. It even shows all the work.

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The free app (which was downloaded 2 million times within the first 24 hours) can solve up to 10th grade math, which probably means there are high school students cheering all around the world; math teachers are invariably less than enthused.

However, the app’s creators (MicroBlink, a London-based text recognition technology company) say that it actually promotes learning. “PhotoMath can be really helpful to many children when they are stuck with their homework and there is no one around to help them to figure it out,” the team writes in a recent blog post. “If we can eliminate kids’ frustration at the point when they can’t do anything else but helplessly stare at the book, we’ll feel awesome. It’s as simple as that.”

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Not only that, but when solving a math equation is as easy as pointing and shooting, it also urges math teachers to revisit their way of teaching. The problem with the way math is taught in schools is that it stresses formulas and rote memorization — leaving scores of students with a hatred for math because they are forced to complete difficult and seemingly endless drills.

We’ve mentioned before that the struggle with math can put a pupil at a serious disadvantage as he or she seeks higher education. In fact, a whopping 70 percent of community college students never complete the remedial math courses that are required for a degree.

Math is beautiful and fascinating and helps us understand our complex universe. As Dan Meyer, a doctoral candidate at Stanford University in the field of math education says to the New York Daily News, “If [PhotoMath] could do everything it promised, it’d ideally mean teachers would assign fewer dull exercises and the more interesting problems that PhotoMath can’t solve — real-world problems, questions that require arguments, estimation questions, graphing questions, etc.”

Technology is developing at light speed and it isn’t going away. Perhaps teachers might want to keep up with it.

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