Why This Math App for Kids Could be a Huge Problem
byKaitlin StanfordOct 28, 2014
If you’re terrible at math, the Photo Math app probably sounds like one pretty sweet solution. The new app expertly solves math problems with just the tap of your finger—just snap a photo of the problem and let Photo Math do the work. A few seconds later, and voila!—you get the answer and a step-by-step guide on how to get there.
Pretty cool, huh?
Not if you’re a math teacher.
The new app is causing a stir within schools, where teachers are finding it increasingly hard to teach math basics to kids in the digital age—and even harder to combat cheating on tests.
“When I first heard about [the app] I thought, ‘Oh my goodness,’” said Dr. Jeffrey Theil, who works for the Chula Vista Elementary School District to help kids meet Common Core standards. “And then I thought, it’s always kind of been there, it’s just quicker and easier because of the speed of the Internet.”
He does have a point there. Remember the days of peeking into the back of your textbook to get the answers on your homework assignment? Of course, when it came to cheating, things got trickier. You had to have an excellently timed yawn/stretch/lean technique and killer peripheral vision.
But apparently, those days are gone.
Thiel also notes that part of what the app can’t master is the part teachers are so concerned that students learn on their own: understanding the intent behind the questions to begin with. Photo Math may be able to do the calculations and show you how to get there (which could be a good thing), but it can’t really teach you the background or context as to why the question is being asked or why you need to know it. (And it definitely can’t explain some of those confusing Common Core questions.)
“That number sense and fluency is really important,” Theil told NBC7, “and I don’t think you can get that through an app or Googling that or whatever, because we’re challenging your mind and what your mind can do mathematically.”
The hope for teachers, of course, is that kids will still be compelled to figure out some problems using their brains.
And as NBC7 reports, apps like Photo Math haven’t entirely taken away that desire.
Student Alexa Zumstein remains in that camp. “Not only does it help me practice doing it in my head,” she said, “it just feels like a sense of accomplishment, like I just did 237 times 26 on my own and I got it right and I feel good.”
237 x 26? … Uh, be right back, we'll have to Google that.