A guide to math solver apps

A guide to math solver apps

The role of Math Solver apps in learning.

Simple math, complicated math, algebra and more— point your phone's camera at a math problem and have the answer appear on the screen. That is what a math solver app does. It is easy to see what problems such an app could cause for teachers, but is there more to these apps?

Our expert reviewers have certified many math solver apps and considered their use by teachers and students, at home and in school.

What features do math solver apps have?

Step-by-step solutions.

There are many legitimate uses for getting straight to an answer, but the option to see a step-by-step solution improves a math solver app's potential to help with learning.

Math solvers with this feature show up to three or four steps you'd typically need to complete to get an answer. It might not be the method or the steps students have learned from their teachers, but it is immeasurably better for reminding learners how to do something than only having the answer.

Dedicated math solver apps tend to have this feature, but those built into more general apps can lack it.

Multiple entry formats. There are different ways to enter a problem into a math solver app. If you think you will type in questions a lot, look for an app with a keyboard that supports entering math better than your standard keyboard. For example, you'll want buttons to ease entering fractions and algebraic notation.

Math solver apps that can use a camera, which is nearly all of them, also let you use an image saved to your photos. For image-based entry, consider how fiddly it is to indicate the problem. You'll often need to crop the image to isolate the problem, but different apps have different-sized windows.

Optical Character Recognition (OCR). A math solver app that can read math problems from an image must use some form of optical character recognition (OCR) so they all have this feature. When assessing a math solver app, you must look for how good the app's OCR is at recognising the text you want to input.

Some might be very good with printed text but not with handwriting. Others might work fine with an adult's precise writing but struggle with the less well-formed digits of young kids.

Online or offline.

Some apps do some or all of the processing online. Online processing can allow for more accurate text recognition or more reliable answers, but it could also be inconvenient if you work in a place with poor reception.

Our reviewers have noticed that it is rare for math solver apps to divulge their dependence on the internet fully. Most have some form of fallback that works entirely on the phone, but it may not be as good. 

When you use a math solver app's free trial, switch to airplane mode on your phone to see how well it deals with no internet.

Can math solver apps solve all math problems?

Math solver apps are growing in sophistication, but currently, they are neither infallible nor universal. The simpler the presentation, the more chance they have of success. 

Many can solve simple word problems, but if the word problems become too detailed or contain redundant information, they can falter.

Algebraic processes such as solving, simplifying and substituting are also no problem. 

The apps can require some help with diagrams. Trigonometry solver apps, for instance, usually ask the user to enter the numbers into a generic triangle diagram.

The current limitations are a good reason to use the apps to check for errors rather than cheat. If the app disagrees with its user's calculations, examining the working out or rechecking is a good action to determine who is right.

The recent rapid growth in the power of artificial intelligence tells us that math solvers are going to get better and more flexible than they are now.

Can math solver apps be used for cheating?

Math solver apps can be used for cheating in the way that anything that gives you an answer can be. Kids can point their camera at a math problem and get a solution, often with some steps shown so that they can support their answer with the working out.

Can math solver apps help learning?

Math solver apps need to be used responsibly, but they are effective tools for supporting kids as they learn math, especially at a higher level. They turn problems from textbooks or the internet into a learning challenge with the ability to check for success.

When kids begin their homework tasks, hours or days might have passed since they last attempted such problems with the support of their teacher.

One of the most demotivating things for kids who have put effort into completing their homework is to get it all wrong. This outcome isn't unusual if kids have a foundational error in their understanding or one has developed since the lesson, but it is avoidable if they can check their first few answers. 

If kids use a math solver to check answers or refresh their memory of the steps they need to follow, they can avoid the letdown of handing in incorrect work.

How should teachers use math solver apps?

Teachers should accept that kids know about these apps. They should also recognise that kids can easily access them. There are many math solver apps, and kids could go some time going from free trial to free trial to ensure they always have a robust feature set to hand.

Address using math solver apps sensibly. Talk about legitimate uses such as confirming answers or refreshing their memory. Remind them that however subtle students attempt to be in hiding their use of math solver apps, the fact will remain that they can't get the solution without one. They will be discovered in class or in a test.

Teachers should consider math solver apps for personal use. They can be great ways of ensuring they've set questions that are possible to answer and that they've not made any errors in the solution. Even gifted math teachers can make mistakes at the end of a long day of teaching.

How should parents use math solver apps?

Parents can provide a way to ensure kids are responsible with math solver apps by installing one on their devices. This way, kids might have to show that they have already tried before looking for answers, and the extra step of asking their parents lessens the temptation of finding a solution prematurely.

In summary, students can misuse math solver apps, but the apps can also be very beneficial. Students have always had opportunities to cheat, such as the answers printed at the back of textbooks. The remedy has always been to educate students on the self-defeating nature of cheating. This is also the case with math solver apps.

Where can I find math solver apps?

The Educational App Store app libraries maintain a list of certified and independently reviewed math solver apps. The reviews will tell you all you need to know about each math solver app to determine which will best suit your needs.

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