An app called Photo Math boasts the ability to solve math problems with the click of a smartphone camera, prompting a new round of an old debate: how much should students use technology in the classroom?
With the app, users can simply hold their phone over a question and wait a few seconds as it makes the calculations. It then produces the answer and shows the steps to get there.
Photo Math offers help for those stuck on a particularly hard question, but it also presents an easy way to cheat.
One educator likened it to the issue of whether to let students use a calculator solve problems.
“When I first heard about (the app), I thought, ‘Oh my goodness.’ And then I thought, it’s always kind of been there, it’s just quicker and easier because of the speed of the internet,” said Dr. Jeffrey Theil, who works with staff and parents on Common Core standards for the Chula Vista Elementary School District.
He told NBC 7 with Common Core, students are asked to show their answers in multiple ways, so one would have to know how to ask the question to get an answer on the internet.
Siri, the virtual voice-controlled assistant on Apple products, can also be used at a math tool but was better with the simple questions, while Photo Math listed all the steps.
However, on Thursday, students in class were asked to do the problems in their heads by rearranging fractions.
While the app could crunch the numbers, it could not understand the intent of the questions, and the intent is what matters.
If students use it as a tool to help them with homework and not a short cut to get the answer, more access and quicker access can be a good thing.
“That number sense and fluency is really important,” said Theil, “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.”
If the technology isn’t there yet to interpret the intent and multiple demands of the Common Core math curriculum, it will be.
And just like in the old days when we could look at the back of the textbook for answers, students need to be taught if they only use the internet as a short cut, they’re only cheating themselves.
Student Alexa Zumstein appreciates that concept, telling NBC 7 she likes doing equations mentally.
“Not only does it help me practice doing it in my head, it just feels a sense of accomplishment, like I just did 237 times 26 on my own and I got it right and I feel good,” she said.