Math and the iPad: Mathination

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From time to time I do a little survey of the math applications that have been made available for the iPad. I haven’t had time lately to really look through the full set of what has become available in the last couple of months, but Matthew Self, author of Mathination, recently brought his app to my attention.

Mathination screenshot

Rather than being a full blown symbolic computation system like Maple or Mathematica, Mathination attempts to take advantage of the iPad’s touch system to let you manipulate formulas and equations like you might do on paper.

If you have x – 1 = 2 and want to add 1 to both slides, just grab the 1 on the left hand side and slide it over to the right to get x = 2 + 1. Then grab the 2 and the 1 and pinch them together to get 3. This works for more complicated polynomial and rational (quotient) expressions as well. I can see this as a great way for kids and students to learn basic algebraic manipulations. The special keyboard for entering your own expressions is well designed.

Math systems tend to be very big and complicated and part of the problem is that there is always more to do. With the extra features often come added complexity and Self’s challenge in evolving Mathination will be to choose selected function to add without making the very nice user interface cumbersome. Here are a few things I might suggest adding sooner rather than later:

  • Have some settings that control how much of the simplification is done automatically. While someone is learning basic algebra, I can see the value of having x – 1 = 2 become x = 2 + 1. I would like a setting that automatically collects up the numbers, so I would get x = 3 immediately. (Note that this can be non-trivial because it is easy to have such a system do computations that the user did not intend.)
  • The computation history is a nice feature, but I would like an option to see it all on a separate screen. Ideally I could even assign problem numbers to a series of calculations so that I could then print or send my computations to a teacher for grading.
  • I think an engine for factoring at least quadratic polynomials would be a good addition. I don’t always want to do too much work to find the roots.

All in all, this is a great start and one of the first iPad apps that does more than just arithmetic and takes advantage of the touch functionality. I look forward to seeing how the app evolves.