Something I’ve seen more and more of lately is very lightweight apps that deal with algebra or other K-12 math topics. Last night I met the creator of Algebra Touch, Sean Berry. Algebra Touch is a pretty app that lets you play with algebra expressions: you can simplify, add, divide, factor, and more with a touch of the finger. I could see it being an enjoyable way to develop the algebraic equivalent of number sense — algebra sense? — especially for students who enjoy a tactile relationship with their mathematics.
Another app that’s been gaining attention: my brother told me about PhotoMath recently. Take a photo of an algebra expression and it will solve it for you and show the steps. On the one hand, a useful study tool; on the other hand, a testing nightmare. (Good thing it can’t do matrix factorization yet or I’d have to worry.) A current teacher wrote a letter to his department about the implications: “drill and kill” must be over when tools like this are available! But I still see facility with the basics as a gateway to success in college: students who can’t add fractions fluently have trouble figuring out the Jacobian matrix as well, not because they don’t understand it but because they can’t do it. The invention of the CD and Pandora and Spotify has not changed the fact that if you can’t play a scale, you can’t play Beethoven yourself. On the other hand, now people without formal musical training can have an app write sheet music from a sung melody. What’s the math equivalent of that?