A little confession from me. I was homeschooled (that's not the confession part), and in 8th grade my algebra textbook had the answers to half the problems in the back. And when I was stumped, I would cheat.
Of course, cheating at math is a terrible way to learn, because the whole point isn't to know the answer to 2x + 2 = 7x - 5, it's to understand the methodology that can solve any like problem.
But what if you could cheat at your homework and learn? That seems to be the premise behind app called Socratic. Or at least that's my takeaway. The app lets you take a picture of a problem (you can also type it in, but that's a little laborious), and it'll not only give you an answer, but the steps necessary to to arrive at that answer — and even detailed explanations of the steps and concepts if you need them.
The app is actually designed to answer any kind of school question — science, history, etc. — but the math thing is the slickest part. For other kinds of questions, Socratic kind of does a bit of Googling, and in my experience can typically find similar word problems on the wide internet, or from its own database of answers. On about half the middle school science problems I tried, the app was able to identify the topic at question and show me additional resources about the concepts involved, but for others it was no more powerful than a simple web search.
But for algebra this thing is sick. I pointed it at 2x + 2 = 7x - 5, which I wrote down at random, and it gave me a 10 step process that results in x = 7/5. It has trouble with word problems, but if you can write down a word problem in math notation it shouldn't be an issue. I also tried it on a weird fraction from an AP algebra exam, which it kind of failed at, but then I swiped over and it was showing me this graph, which included the correct answer:
I love this app, not just because it would've helped 8th grade Paul out of a jam, but because it's such a computery use of computers. You use the tiny computer in your pocket to be basically smarter than you already are. It's technology that augments a human brain, not just a distraction.
The creator of Socratic just open sourced its step-by-step solver, called mathsteps. There are a lot of computer-based algebra solvers out there, but for Socratic they had to do some extra engineering to get at the steps a human would need to solve the same problem.
Also, I'd be remiss not to mention Photomath, which has been doing this since 2014, and actually has step-by-step explanations in the recently released Photomath+ paid version (there's a free trial). I like the Socratic interface and explanations a bit better, but I'm glad to see this is a vibrant market.
Homework can often feel like an overwhelming, never-ending pile of stress. Homework stress can cause frustration and anxiety and ultimately prevent you from achieving your best results.
However, this feeling of not being in control can be avoided by simply adjusting your study habits. Homework and study can actually be a rewarding, satisfying experience if done in an organised and efficient way. Here are some tips on how to achieve that.
1. Practise good time management
Time management is key to avoiding homework stress. Plotting out the time you need to complete your homework or assignment can quickly make what seems like an overwhelming task much less stressful to approach.
- Set aside a certain amount of time each day to work on your homework, and choose a time that sits you. You may prefer early in the morning before school, or maybe you’re fresher when you get home from school in the afternoon.
- Use a calendar or school planner to plot out your work. List important dates, when things are due and when you have exams. This will help you have a good visual of things you need to work towards.
- Allow enough time to complete your work. Making sure you give yourself enough time to complete your work is crucial in avoiding a meltdown. Be realistic. Estimate how long you think it will take each day to complete your homework, and allow plenty of time for bigger projects and assignments.
2. Ask questions
One of the biggest causes of homework stress is not understanding the question, or how to solve the problem at hand. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and clarify what you need to do. Whether it be a question on how to solve a tricky trigonometry problem or how to structure your essay, no question is a silly question. Try asking your teachers, your parents, a friend or an online Subject Specialist for help.
3. Listen to your teacher and take notes
It sounds simple, but it’s something that many students struggle with. Pay attention and write down important terms and ideas in the classroom. You will find this helps organise your thoughts and remember key information, which will make homework time much more of a breeze.
4. Allow more time for areas you find difficult
Take a practice test or write a practice essay and focus on the areas you find the hardest. The more you practise, the less stressful it will be when the time comes to sit the exam or hand in your assignment.
5. Refresh your memory regularly
Every afternoon, or at least every couple of days, go over what you’ve learnt from previous lessons. If you find that you don’t have the basic knowledge to tackle more difficult subjects go over this more frequently - this will help you build up your confidence in those areas.
6. Get a good night’s sleep
It may sound obvious, but it’s easy to suffer from sleep deprivation when you are feeling stressed about homework. Research suggests that kids and teens need around 9-10 hours sleep a night. This will significantly help focus, memory, decision making and creativity, all of which are important inside and outside of the classroom.
7. Avoid procrastination
Procrastination could well be the biggest factor responsible for homework stress. You’d be surprised at how much time you can waste by putting off what you need to do until you’ve checked out your Facebook page or listened to your favourite song! Let these be rewards for once your work is actually done.
8. Have a healthy snack
There is a proven link between what we eat and how well our brain functions. Memory, learning ability and emotional states are affected by what we put into our bodies, and to perform our best we need a healthy diet. (Check out some delicious and healthy snack recipes here)
9. Remember to breathe
If you’re starting to feel anxious or overwhelmed by your work, take five deep breaths and give yourself a moment of calm. Deep breathing will help control your nervous system and encourage your body to relax, bringing you into a better state to concentrate on your study.
10. Give yourself some ‘me’ time
While it’s important that you manage your time and work efficiently, you are going to be much more productive if you are feeling fresh and have had some time to do things you enjoy doing. It might be going for a walk or a swim, hanging out with some friends on the weekend, or perhaps it’s playing sport? Whatever it may be, make sure you have that balance. A healthy, happy mind equals better study time.