Can Photomath Help Support Students Learning Math?
Note about the author: Kevin Hoffman is a Teach for America alum who taught math for several years in Los Angeles and Oakland, CA. He is currently Vice Principal at the Envision Academy for Arts & Technology and holds a Masters in Education in Learning & Design from Vanderbilt University.
About two weeks into my eighth grade class’ unit on solving single-variable equations this past year, I introduced the Photomath math help app in class. I was sharing my screen on Zoom and flipped to a slide with the Photomath logo and some notes; my goal was to outline what the app could and could not offer as a potential support for students. Then, as I started talking, a student sent in the chat: “Photomath is awesome!”
Not only had this student already been using Photomath, but this student — we’ll call him David — was also one of my quietest students, and one who faced significant challenges in logging into class on a regular basis. I was thrilled! All of a sudden, with some adept searching either online or through the app store, he had found a tool that made him feel competent and able, that gave him a clue about what problems like these were asking him to do. I still wanted David and his classmates to be able to solve and reason about equations like this on their own, of course, but his reaction made me think of a number of reasons why Photomath can be useful in school and at home:
- Students using the Photomath math app are showing competency in mathematical practice. I’d argue that David, who sought out a tool on his own and found Photomath, was “using appropriate tools strategically.” Obviously, if I had provided guidelines prohibiting its use, the use of the app would no longer be “appropriate” — but that would still present an incredible opportunity to discuss the meaning of that term in the light of our math practices!
- Photomath can provide an opportunity for students to see a worked solution while learning math. For many students, I’ve found that providing a worked example is an effective scaffold or accommodation. Photmath can do just that, especially in cases when a trusted adult is not immediately present (i.e. in distance learning, or in some cases if a student is working on homework on their own).
- Photomath’s AI technology can inspire wonder in students — and create a connection between computer science, app design, and classroom mathematics. David was clearly intrigued by the power of taking a picture and his phone working out the solution for him. And that is powerful! But what if we got David wondering about how it works? What’s more, what if we made connections between visual recognition software and chains of logic, and the repeated reasoning we go through as humans when solving for unknown values in equations?
In a series of blog posts, I’m going to share some more ideas and insights I’ve had as a teacher surrounding Photomath — on teaching strategies, integrating technology in the math classroom, ways to engage students in math, math education software, and more. I hope you join me and leave your own suggestions in the comments below!