A New App Poses a Big Question

OK. I have a topic I’d like you to weigh in on, as a reader and a leader. It’s a conversation we need to have among teachers, coaches, and parents about the kind of skill sets we need to cultivate in our students that will enable them to be ready for life and leadership.

A New App That Solves Math Problems?

I just read about PhotoMath, a new app that solves math problems by simply pointing your phone camera at the equation. Amazing! Where was this when I was in school, right?

The PhotoMath website claims all this and more: it actually teaches math in the process. The app reads and solves mathematical problems by using the camera of your mobile device in real time. It makes math easy and simple by walking users through the steps to solve their math problems.

PhotoMath claims to be “The world’s smartest camera calculator! Just point your camera to a math problem, and PhotoMath will instantly display the answer. You can join millions of users worldwide and make your learning progress faster and more enjoyable. You can use it to get help when you’re stuck with a problem. Hit the steps button, and see a full step-by-step solution!” Students can use it as a tool to learn math, while parents can use it to quickly check their kid’s homework. The claim is: with PhotoMath, it’s like having a math teacher in your pocket!

The app supports basic arithmetic, fractions, decimal numbers, linear equations and several functions like logarithms. Support for updated math theory or lessons are constantly added in new releases. Handwritten text is not supported — only printed problems from Math textbooks.


The Big Question

With this new technology, students can instantly receive accurate answers. My question is, will students actually learn the steps to solving math problems with this app, or will it cause their math skills to atrophy? Will we get lazier when it comes to solving problems because we have a smart phone in our hands?

Or… will it even matter?

Think back to the time when calculators first came out. Many math teachers would tell their students they could not bring a calculator to class, as they wanted the students to demonstrate they could solve the problem without any electronics in hand. Over time, however, we began to see that calculators saved us time and effort, so we all began using them. My guess is, you have one on your smart phone right now. It’s commonplace. But is that good? Should we continue to develop our math skills to keep our minds sharp, or do we agree that our 21st century culture no longer requires that of us, freeing our minds to focus on more relevant problems?

Personally, I’ve been one to solve multiplication and division problems mentally, just to stay sharp. However, I can see both sides of this issue. It’s likely PhotoMath will be commonplace someday, and when it does, we all may wonder how we got by without it.

So here’s the larger question: are math skills timeless skills we should continue to build in our kids, regardless of what technology is introduced into the market? What’s more, are there other skills we should consider timeless and continue to help them cultivate, such as:

  • Empathy
  • Discipline
  • Listening
  • Work ethic

What do you think? What do we allow technology to do for us, and what do we regard as timeless life skills we should always develop in every generation?

Looking to develop timeless leadership skills in students? 

Check out Habitudes®: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes



A New App Poses a Big Question