Recently I found this device advertised which uses any mobile phone's built-in camera to solve equations.

From the site -

PhotoMath reads and solves mathematical expressions by using the camera of your mobile device in real time. It makes math easy and simple by educating users how to solve math problems.

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What impact will it have on how Algebra will be taught in the future? In particular will maintaining skills in solving equations become a thing of the past?

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    $\begingroup$ My intuition tells me this device has more probability of being used for the worse than for the better. $\endgroup$ Oct 23, 2014 at 11:58
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    $\begingroup$ Two remarks: 1. could you please include a brief description of the device, so that one does not have to leave the page to make sence of the question. 2. The question you ask is quite broad and to make this prediction will be a bit complicated. Possibly, to ask what (if any) adjustements to ones teaching one should make is a more answerable question. (I did not -1 though.) $\endgroup$
    – quid
    Oct 23, 2014 at 13:21
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    $\begingroup$ I think this is a great topic, I didn't know that such things existed already (it was bound to happen sooner or later thou) and thank you for sharing it. On the other hand, you have to improve your question, I fully agree with quid's comment. $\endgroup$
    – dtldarek
    Oct 23, 2014 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ My hope is that math education will shift to focus more on setting up the equation than solving it. Understanding the limitations/assumptions of the set-up and how they influence the validity of the answer. $\endgroup$
    – Aeryk
    Oct 23, 2014 at 20:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Aeryk: My hope is that math education will shift to focus more on setting up the equation than solving it. This would be my hope as well. But I doubt that this will ever happen, because grading "word problems" is a lot of work, and most teachers are not willing to do it. $\endgroup$
    – user507
    Oct 26, 2014 at 20:34

1 Answer 1


I'm going to suggest the answer is "none."

While the app is cute, technology has offered increasing levels of 'cheating' available to students for some time now.

Desmos, for example, can graph an equation instantly. Yet, algebra students still need to understand the process to be able to graph a given equation when test time comes. There are even sites that will give you a derivative or integral when given an equation formatted properly.

The result in my opinion, is that teachers need to be aware of what's out there, and diligent in not letting students have their phones out during tests or even during class. Aside from that, this app is not a game changer.

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    $\begingroup$ A good way to avoid this is custom word problems. If the student has gone through the trouble of figuring out the algebraic equations from the word problem, solving the equations shouldn't be so difficult. $\endgroup$ Jun 12, 2015 at 20:39
  • $\begingroup$ That is, to be more precise, ideally students practice (not "learn") intuiting/doing the set-up (into equations) of problems that are not necessarily presented as "algebra"/whatever. This is vastly harder to make algorithmic, even for experts, since it makes implicit reference to an ambient context, ambiguously specified, etc. Humans cope with (a bit of) ambiguity or vagueness much-much-much better than non-carbon-based machines at this point. But, sadly, yes, it is messier to conduct classes addressing this, and much harder to grade (since the grader cannot be a simple machine...) $\endgroup$ Jun 14, 2015 at 0:16

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