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What parents need to know about homework-help apps

Cristina POPOV

February 04, 2020

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What parents need to know about homework-help apps

What are they? 

There are several apps that promise to help children with their homework. Depending on the app, kids can see the process that led to the correct answer (and hopefully lean from it) or just get results with no effort.

Here are some of the most popular:

Socratic by Google is a homework-help app that uses text-recognition technology to search the web for solutions to homework questions. Kids take a photo of a question or problem, crop it, and hit the search button. The app displays anything from basic web search results to curated answers from experts, computer algebra systems, or crowdsourced solutions and explanations on Socratic’s web platform.

Photomath solves mathematical problems. A user can scan the problem with a smart device camera and wait for the app to come up with a result for it. The free version shows the steps for solving a problem, and the paid one provides more detailed explanations.

Mathway is an app (and website) that lets users plug in math equations and tap “Evaluate” to find solutions. The free version only gives the answers, but a subscription gives step-by-step solutions to problems in a wide variety of math types, including basic math, pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus.

Essaybot writes essays for anyone who needs it. A user introduces a topic, phrase or the subject of the essay. That’s enough for the bot to come up with an essay related to the topic picked up from materials available on the internet. Texts are slightly rephrased so they can pass plagiarism detectors.

Are these apps appropriate for children? 

When using these apps, the line between getting help and cheating is very blurred. These apps should be used in moderation and with some supervision from a parent, so they don’t become just the easy way out.

Struggling with an assignment, trying, failing, and trying again until succeeding is an essential part of learning. Parents should be careful that their kids don’t miss it.

It also might be a good idea to check every app privacy policy before using it, so you can know what data they collect and share.

How to protect children when using homework-help apps

While they can be useful learning support tools, they can be a shortcut to easy answers if not used properly.

To prevent cheating, talk to children about:

1. How important it is to work independently and honestly when solving school assignments (and in general)

2. How to respect others’ work and not copy it

It might be helpful for parents themselves to try these apps before letting kids use them, and monitor their activity to make sure these apps are not their first option when they get stuck.

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