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.
Everyone’s headed back to school, and this time, they’ve got another year’s worth of tech advances to rely on. No, not in class: Trust me, no teacher is going to be okay with you multitasking by browsing Snapchat while taking notes on their lecture. But outside the classroom, you have a few study buddies in the form of homework apps.
But like any type of apps, there are a lot of duds to wade through. We’ve done the hard work for you, and present this simple list of the five best homework apps.
We’d be remiss not to point out the gold standard among apps to help with homework: Socratic offers an AI-powered search function to offer you information on basic courses like science, history, astrophysics, English and math, scanning millions of student questions to pull up results that can help you process the problem in front of you. Math in particular is a snap: Take a photo of a problem and watch the app list out all the steps you’ll need to take, along with the final answer you should arrive at.
The results aren’t always perfect, but that’s probably a good thing: You want to learn how to understand your school course critically, not just copy all the right answers. It’s available on Google Play and the App Store.
Photomath Camera Calculator
Photomath app instantly scans and solves math problems right from your notebook.
Like Socratic, this app scans math problems, using its AI to analyze them and provide an answer. It provides step by step instructions, as the video above demonstrates, and functions as a smart calculator as well. It’s available on Google Play and the App Store.
myHomework Student Planner
Solving all your homework problems won’t matter if you can’t get to your classes on time: This app helps you plan out your day. If you’re not an organized type, here’s an easy way to keep track of each class and what type of homework you’ll have to surf through before you know you’re prepared for tomorrow.
You can download it in the App Store here.
Got It Study
Specializing in math, physics, and chemistry, this app offers a photo equation solver AI function. But what makes it unique is the secondary option: You can contact a real, live study expert to text with through the app. They’ll guide you through the problems you’re facing, all for a price tag a lot cheaper than a tutor comes with.
It’s available for iOS devices, and you can download it in the App Store here.
Wolfram|Alpha for Mobile
The absurdly overpowered Wolfram|Alpha search engine can solve questions you never knew you had. Case in point: It can give you a math function for how many fingers you are holding up at a given time, it can tell you the frequency at which a 50-pound dog must shake to shed water (six hertz, fyi), and can give you information about the warp factor in The Next Generation. Of course, it answers all the normal questions a schoolkid might have, as well.
You can click through here for versions of the mobile app for Apple, Android, Google Play, and even Kindle Fire.
Read more about edtech startups around the country at TechCo