A little confession from me. I was homeschooled (that's not the confession part), and in 8th grade my algebra textbook had the answers to half the problems in the back. And when I was stumped, I would cheat.
Of course, cheating at math is a terrible way to learn, because the whole point isn't to know the answer to 2x + 2 = 7x - 5, it's to understand the methodology that can solve any like problem.
But what if you could cheat at your homework and learn? That seems to be the premise behind app called Socratic. Or at least that's my takeaway. The app lets you take a picture of a problem (you can also type it in, but that's a little laborious), and it'll not only give you an answer, but the steps necessary to to arrive at that answer — and even detailed explanations of the steps and concepts if you need them.
The app is actually designed to answer any kind of school question — science, history, etc. — but the math thing is the slickest part. For other kinds of questions, Socratic kind of does a bit of Googling, and in my experience can typically find similar word problems on the wide internet, or from its own database of answers. On about half the middle school science problems I tried, the app was able to identify the topic at question and show me additional resources about the concepts involved, but for others it was no more powerful than a simple web search.
But for algebra this thing is sick. I pointed it at 2x + 2 = 7x - 5, which I wrote down at random, and it gave me a 10 step process that results in x = 7/5. It has trouble with word problems, but if you can write down a word problem in math notation it shouldn't be an issue. I also tried it on a weird fraction from an AP algebra exam, which it kind of failed at, but then I swiped over and it was showing me this graph, which included the correct answer:
I love this app, not just because it would've helped 8th grade Paul out of a jam, but because it's such a computery use of computers. You use the tiny computer in your pocket to be basically smarter than you already are. It's technology that augments a human brain, not just a distraction.
The creator of Socratic just open sourced its step-by-step solver, called mathsteps. There are a lot of computer-based algebra solvers out there, but for Socratic they had to do some extra engineering to get at the steps a human would need to solve the same problem.
Also, I'd be remiss not to mention Photomath, which has been doing this since 2014, and actually has step-by-step explanations in the recently released Photomath+ paid version (there's a free trial). I like the Socratic interface and explanations a bit better, but I'm glad to see this is a vibrant market.
If you have kids in school, you know how much homework can take over their evenings. With all the different subjects and assignments they have on their desks, it can be hard for them to keep track of everything.
Fear not, here are some helpful apps for kids and parents to get on the same page when it comes to getting those assignments done, and done right.
Having a good calculator on hand is a must for any student. This scientific calculator app provides everything students need to sine, cosine, or tangent to their heart's content. There's also a handy note-taking component of the app that lets kids keep track of their answers, and more importantly, not forget how they got them. (Free, iOS; similar Android version called RealCalc)
The new ways that math is being taught these days is a departure from when we were growing up. For those tricky textbook algebra equations or logarithms that no one can quite figure out, turn to PhotoMath. Simply snap a photo of the problem, and PhotoMath will provide a detailed step-by-step overview of the solution. It's like having a digital math tutor in your pocket. (Free; iOS, Android)
Kids learning a second language will really appreciate the ease of iTranslate. This easy-to-use app offers translations of words, phrases and text in 90 languages. It even offers the ability to audibly hear different dialects in both male and female voices, so your kids can immerse themselves in the language and learn to speak like a native. (Free; iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, Windows)
Flipping through pages of a dictionary is so old school. With the Dictionary.com app, students can get definitions in a matter of taps. In addition to a whopping 2 million words, the app also provides bonus features like audio pronunciations, word search, favorite words, and of course, a word of the day. (Free; iOS, Kindle Fire, Android)
Papers, projects and deadlines, oh my! Keeping homework organized can be a task in and of itself. With myHomework, students can keep tabs on every assignment, get reminders for when projects are due and notate when tests are occurring. Similar to the master planners from the days of yore, this digital helper makes sure that a deadline is never missed. (Free; iOS, Kindle Fire, Android, Windows, Chrome)
Although not a mobile app, Anti-Social is a helpful web app that helps turn productivity on by turning all distractions off. Locking your computer from social sites, like Facebook and Twitter, for any predetermined amount of time lets students focus on the work at hand and not the images their friends are posting. ($15; Windows XP, Windows 10, and Macs OS X 10.8-10.11)
It's helpful to have contact information for the parents of the students in your child's class. If you have a print-out of parents' contact information, simply snap a picture with the app and it automatically digitizes everyone's information into a list. You can then group chat, text or email with other parents and keep track of what's going on in the classroom. (Free; iOS, Android)
With Class Messenger, parents and teachers can communicate in a private group setting, share photos, share documents and keep the lines of communication open. Parents can communicate about homework assignments, ask general questions, and even schedule parent-teacher conferences through the app. (Free; iOS, Android)
Maybe your child's homework assignment or science project sparks something that you want to learn about. Lucky for you, there's an app like Khan Academy that gives you access to thousands of hours of high-quality instruction—for free. Khan Academy offers more than 10,000 videos about any subject imaginable and makes you feel like you're in school again—without the homework. (Free; iOS, Android)