by Ben Maynard, Director of Media and Educational Technology
After last month’s blog post about literacy and assistive technology (AT) that can help students with dyslexia, I had several questions about similar tools for math. Finding tools for math is more challenging because unlike reading, not all tools fit every student's need or align with the level of math being studied. Therefore, because of the variety of needs for students within math topics, I am breaking this article into three sections. First, I will discuss tools that will help with computations for basic math through pre-algebra. The second section suggests tools for students working on higher levels of math that incorporate formulas' aids. The final section will review a calculator that is freely available to help students check their work.
Unlike my first blog post, I cannot limit my discussion to apps that are free because there is a limited number of tools available. Most of the apps I describe, however, are free and can be used immediately because there is nothing more frustrating than hearing about a perfect tool but its price point puts it out of the reach of a teacher or family. I just wanted to acknowledge my approach for this article is a little different.
Often students with dyslexia and dysgraphia struggle in math not because they can’t complete the math, but because they write the problems incorrectly. ModMath is a tool designed by a mother and father for their son who struggled with writing math problems correctly because his handwriting kept him from correctly completing his assignments.
ModMath is available in both free and Pro ($4.99) versions. The paid version gives more access to additional features within the app for higher level math. The free version is powerful enough to support middle school math, and completed problems can be printed or emailed to a teacher for grading. ModMath is not a calculator, rather it is a platform to help students keep their math problems aligned properly by dividing the workspace into individually editable boxes, like electronic graph paper with the ability to zoom in and focus on specific parts of a problem in isolation from other parts. ModMath supports long division, multiplication, fractions, decimals, roots, powers, and algebraic expressions. The only drawback is that ModMath only works on the iPad, and there are no plans for the PC, Mac, or Android versions.
Tools for Higher Level Math
Texthelp, the company behind Read&Write for Google, has also developed EquatIO to help students with dyslexia in math and science. It offers a few unique features. First, with a touchscreen computer, students can write or speak their math problems and it will convert them into typed text that can be directly sent to Google Docs. If students struggle with remembering a formula, as students begin typing a formula or keyword, the program will offer suggestions for which formula to use. For this function to work correctly, you need to turn on formula prediction in the options menu.
Like ModMath, EquatIO is not a calculator, rather it is a tool that helps students use the correct formula and express their ideas in a clear way. Students can write their formulas with a touchscreen computer or dictate them directly into the program. However, EquatIO is not free. Individual subscriptions for students are over $100 a year, but teacher accounts are free.
Not all teachers want students to be aware that some of these calculators exist. On the surface, they seem like an easy way to cheat on math assignments if they only used them to complete problems. However, students with dyslexia develop grit and determination to learn subjects. They know that it always takes extra time to figure out some assignments. In this way, calculators become a tool to help students as they prepare for exams and verify that they understand mathematical concepts. There are a variety of different tools in both web and phone applications, but I am going to limit my discussion to just one phone-based app.
Photomath has been around for years. It allows students to scan the math problem with their phone, and it offers a step by step explanation about how to complete the assignment. On the surface, this appears to be a tool that would almost exclusively help students cheat, but if it is used after the students solve the problem, it offers immediate feedback about how the problem was completed, and at that moment, students can see what they did or did not do correctly. It even offers animations of the problems so students can compare its answer with their own so they can see if they did anything incorrectly. Currently, Photomath supports math from basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, to derivation and integration. Here is a PDF showing the problem types it can solve. Photomath is completely free and is available for both iOS and Android.
These tools are not perfect, but if used together, they can help students with dyslexia overcome the first roadblock to completing math correctly, writing the problem down.
As technology continues to develop, new tools are likely to be created.