PhotoMath: Should you ban Windows Phone in the Maths classroom?

Remember when calculators were banned in the classroom, because it made calculation too easy? Well, in the same spirit there’s going to be a maths teacher somewhere that will decide to ban their students from having a Windows Phone in their maths classroom. And all because of PhotoMath and how it makes it too easy to solve mathematical expressions.

It’s really simple to use….

Point your phone at a maths equation:

Photomath (1)

PhotoMath shows you the solution:


Photomath (2)

..and the steps to solve it:

PhotoMath (3)

OneNote and stylus to the rescue for creating complex equations!

Thanks to OneNote, I’ve also found it can solve complex equations…

First, I hand wrote the complex equation that I wanted straight into OneNote (with my Surface Pro 3 stylus)…


…then I used the OneNote “Ink to Math” function:


..and OneNote inserted it into my document as text:


…which I then (maybe bizarrely) scanned and solved with PhotoMath

Apparently, X = 5 over 2, with 11 steps to a solution:

PhotoMath (4)

There are three thoughts running through my head now:

  1. I’m actually going to be able to help my daughter with her HSC maths homework (but I’m never going to reveal how!)
  2. We’re hitting Arthur C Clarke’s Third Law:  “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”
  3. If you’re a maths teacher and your students discover the app, what are you going to give them to do as homework? Maybe you’ll ask them to create mathematical expressions that they can solve, but PhotoMath can’t?

Learn MoreLearn more about PhotoMath or just download it straight to your Windows Phone here

Footnote: The microblink team behind PhotoMath have also released an SDK for Maths Equation Solving, so I can imagine we might see this functionality being built into other apps too!

Comments (7)

  1. Jason Ward says:

    I think that rather than fearing students will use it to cheat, perhaps teachers can figure out how to integrate it into the instructional process. After all, this doesn't just give you the answer, it gives you the steps on how to get it for yourself. I can see that being a boon to the instructional process and an ease on the teacher's workload.

  2. Peter West says:

    As usual, the students who want to take shortcuts may 'cheat', while those who want to learn will use it as an amazing learning tool. I believe the number of students who want to learn is vastly larger than the other group, and we shouldn't hold them back.

    Technology continues to amaze me.

  3. Matt Richards says:

    I shared this with our Director of Studies (whos is also a mathematician) yesterday. He LOVED it! Very cool. 🙂

  4. Matthew Jorgensen says:

    Very cool technology and I like the way Ray has bridged the gap between handwriting and digital text.

  5. Ian Allan Thomson says:

    Thanks Ray. This raises some interesting issues related to the role of technology in mathematics education. PhotoMath, although not yet perfect, is a technological accomplishment. Assuming it was desirable for students to solve this decontextualised "complex" equation in the first place, however, I would prefer to see them using OneNote rather than PhotMath. The use of the stylus on OneNote would allow them to remain in a non-linguistic realm which would preserve their working memory. With the aid of OneNote Classroom Notebook, they would display their fluency and reasoning to the teacher, and the solution would be revealed in less than half the number of steps described by PhotoMath.

  6. Phil Feain says:

    I am often amazed at how many students cannot use their graphics calculators very well and the difficulties in the classroom with teachers having to deal with students using a variety of calculators. I like the idea of something that helps students to check their answers simply in order to confirm that they know what they are doing is correct. This looks like a nice way of doing it.

  7. sam says:

    Just in case anybody is interested after you use the ink to math feature in onenote, you can solve the math if you have the Microsoft mathematics addin installed.…/details.aspx

    You just right-click and hit compute.  It doesn't give step-by-step results though but it is all within one note.

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