Monday, August 03, 2009

Paperless Math?

I'm on a mission for a reader who's a math teacher.

What options are out there for collecting math homework/assignments paperlessly? With the exception of what you can do with a Tablet, I'm woefully ignorant about how to handle math work (especially in high school).

Let's put this readership and PLN to work and come up with a list of options!


  1. I have had my geo students create "how to construc (perpendicular, mediam...)t" presentations (video, smartboard, slideshow, PPT) to demonstrate that they know the process. They still need to show me on paper or in person they canactually construct.

  2. My wife is a middle school Algebra teacher and I work in higher education technology. We've been looking for ways to accomplish this and I've gotta say it's a tough search.

    What we've come to grips with is that math just doesn't lend itself easily to a traditional computer keyboard, and when it all boils down that is what the majority of your students have to work with. If I'm wrong about that, I'd be overjoyed to be shown the easy to use, inexpensive technology that I've missed! (thats not sarcasm either)

    At this point you are limited to a tablet PC, a scanner or perhaps the livescribe pen. Two of those three options still use paper, and the tablet PC isn't going to be available in every home.

    Math homework is such a freeform method of writing. The only things I've found to accomodate it requires the student to learn a dizzying array of buttons to click on or some sort of syntax to represent equations within the confines of a sentence like structure.

    It's ironic, because I often tell people where I work that the hardware is no longer the problem in education. It's the innovation of individuals that is the missing ingredient. Maybe math is the one area that isn't quite true yet.

  3. For lower elementary, is a great site that has very specific practice sets on every single topic (or close to every topic) you would need in a given school year. If you wanted to shift to web-based math for 2nd-5th grades, I'd go there.

  4. Have a look at webassign ( They have deals with various textbook publishers for automated marking of the maths problems in the back of textbooks.

  5. I have my kids record themselves completing and explaining problems using the Smart Notebook Software (which includes record) that is on all of our county's computers. This way I can see and hear exactly how they are solving it, and if there are any things we may need to review. They love doing it and we often post them on our wiki so others can watch. They were surprising good at using the mouse to draw (we don't have tablets).

  6. Aleks is hands down the best platform. It has an adaptive learning engine behind it that figures out what the student knows, doesn't know and what they are READY TO LEARN. This is the key. No use in teaching differential equations if they don't understand algebra.

  7. I will be teaching my 1st math class this year and my goal is textbookless rather than paperless. As Shelly has often pointed out the purpose is about making learning relevant and authentic. I feel that math often requires doodling on paper to figure it out.

    Now the copy secretary at my school knows not to throw away all the "mistakes" from the machine and they all come to me so I have plenty of scrap paper that students can use.

    That said I am going to use student blogs and other sites as much as possible. is a site recommended by Ira Socol because it can integrate into Word or Google Docs. I have not tried it out yet. We have Geometer's Sketchpad at my school which is a great program for exploring all levels of math.

    Dan Myer has a great blog where he gives creative ideas for authentic math at

    I also like the idea of mathcasts found at I would like to have students create their own videos explaining math concepts that would become a library for help that students could access for help at home or if they are absent.

    Lastly if you want to follow my progress in 6th Grade math I blog at

    So don't get too hung up on the paper, but make the math meaningful instead of just memorizing algorithms.

  8. Question for teachers...Is there value in paperless math homework and assignments (other than the green-effect and lack of clutter) if the work you do to review and grade the work is the same?

    Is it helpful for you to have a digital archive of all students' work even if you might not grade every assignment or every problem?

    Just curious...

  9. Great ideas, folks. Thanks for the responses... let's keep 'em coming.


    I'd imagine there would be value in being able to share notes/solutions in real time not unlike in any class. Also, it would be nice to share math work via Skype and similar apps outside of the classroom as well as use graphic analysis apps to show equations in different ways.

    The digital archive in a math class is an interesting notion... it would be great if it were collaborative and 'searchable' -- both common incorrect as well as correct solutions.

    - Shelly

  10. concretekax already mentioned graphcalc but I've done much paperless math with it so I will bring it up again.

    Because you can transfer the whole calculator screen to any word processor - including Google Docs, you get all the proper notation, and as a teacher, you get to watch the entire process.

    I'll also put in a plug for Word2007 here, which has a vastly improved equation editor - compared to earlier versions.

    - Ira Socol

  11. How about using a voice thread to record a student working out a problem while talking about why he is taking the steps that he's taking.

    If you are trying to get an equation into a blog or wiki, there is a relatively (notice the word relatively) easy way of doing it now thanks to LaTeX ( ).

    I'm currently at the point of saying that using technology for everyday use in math is using technology incorrectly. Please use it as a tool when it is the best tool. Don't use it just to "go green" or to "do more technology stuff." There are so many other things you can do if going green is your point. As much as I love technology in the classroom, it isn't ALWAYS the answer.

  12. I've tried using Moodle a bit with my high school math students. A few frustrations have floated to the top of the mix. The first is "time." Initially, electronic submission seems like a time saver on the teacher's end and it is, but on the student's end, it is not. In a course such as statistics, there are simply too many symbols to figure out on the computer. Written work is much more efficient. If all students had access to scanners, the conversation would be different. One might argue, "can't students just type in their answers via email or Moodle?" Any seasoned math educator knows that the work a student shows is necessary for troubleshooting, feedback and helps "see what the student is thinking" in order to quickly determine common misconceptions. Pedagogically, I could see some very well constructed multiple-choice questions being a valid substitute for the common misconceptions piece, but that leaves out those who aren't even understanding the fundamentals enough to engage in the most common mistakes. Just my two cents from experience...

  13. I've been teaching math for 24 years now. This year I have a class that I have not taught for 13 years - Precalculus. I am trying to teach as paperless as possible with the use of iPod Touches or iPhones (student owned) or they can use my computer lab (I also teach video production). I am combining these tools with the online tools that are a subscription service tied to our textbook thru Pearson/Prentice Hall called MathXL which is a very cool online process of entering their homework answers which will go directly into a grading program so that I can see which problems each student missed. I hope to use this for class purposes as well as time spent looking at only these problems in their work which will still have to be turned in on paper. We will also take quizzes and tests online with this tool. I will also use clickers for quizzes built into my Keynote lectures to make sure they are paying attention in class and this will be part of their grade.

  14. Smart board software, notebook, has a new math component which is currently in pre-release, available as a free download that will expire in Oct, when it will be available for purchase.

    People without Smart boards, but have a projector for a computer, may be interested in the wiimote whiteboard project, to turn any surface into an interactive whiteboard with the use of a wii remote control. google it. Created by Johnny Chung Lee. also, improved versions may be available via sourceforge.

    Geogebra, would look fab, throwing graphs up on the wall, via wiimote whiteboard, interactively.

    And Sketchup (free 3d drawing program), great for elementary and middle school, tesselations, modeling, 3d dimensional construction, angles. See Bonnie Roskes' books, at 3dVinci, geometrics and modelmetrics. Co-author Jon Choate will be presenting at the NCTM conf in Boston this Oct. I love Sketchup. His zebragraph website has the .ppt's on a previous NCTM presentation. I'm head-over-heels over Sketchup, really!

  15. Wow! Love the discussion that's going on here.

    It's definitely important to make sure that the students to not just get the right answer, but understand the logical reasoning behind each step - especially for the lower level classes.


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