Play With Polynomials With Algebra Touch

Geek Culture

Image: Regular Berry

With the advent of the iPhone and iPad, new apps have come out of the woodwork. Educational apps for kids take up a huge piece of the market. And, I swear, half of those are ABC apps. But, among the other half are some real gems for older kids.

Image: Regular Berry

Since my kids are way past learning the sounds that letters make, I’m always on the alert for later elementary and even high school level education apps. I recently found one that is probably intended for junior high, but since my daughter is already encountering algebraic concepts in the 4th grade, the timing couldn’t be better.

Algebra Touch is a fairly new app that allows kids to physically manipulate equations. They can tap, drag, rearrange and reduce the equations to solve them. The app has two main modes. In the teaching section, denoted by a question mark in the upper left corner in the iPod Touch version, the app teaches algebraic concepts such as adding like terms, negative numbers, multiplication, order of operations, factoring, reducing fractions, division, variables and more. There are 17 different tutorial parts here.

Image: Regular Berry

The practice section, denoted by the bulleted list icon in the iPod Touch version, allows you to practice everything you learned in the teaching section. You can solve problem after problem in each of the taught areas. You can also create your own problems and then solve them with the app’s help. The app saves the problems you’ve created, so you can always use them again later. It can also create random problems for more practice.

Algebra Touch teaches you to rearrange terms in polynomials so that like terms are together for easier adding. Tapping the operator between them causes the terms to compute themselves. In fractions, you just cross out like factors in the numerator and denominator to reduce. In general, just isolate the variable and work the rest out, term by term.

Image: Regular Berry

This isn’t an app about how to add 4 + 8. Those concepts should already be learned. This is all about how to manipulate equations. And even if you haven’t studied formal Algebra before, playing with this app will teach you many basic concepts, especially if you go through the tutorial.

In the upper right corner, there is a speech bubble that allows you to ask for help from a friend over email or Facebook. It sends an email or a Facebook message with the problem you’re working on, so you can get help from people you know. Or you can just share the equations you’ve solved already.

A couple of notes about the app: it just uses single variables. It also does the arithmetic for you, except division. For division, you have to factor out numbers and reduce the fraction until you end up with a whole number or lowest fraction. Also, while it works really well on an iPod Touch, I can’t wait to try it out on an iPad. There will be so much more room to work.

In a brand new update just out on March 18, 2011, the app can also now use the distributive property and factoring. Sean Berry, the creator, has created a YouTube video demonstrating the new features.

Algebra Touch costs $2.99 in the iTunes store, which is a bargain compared with how much Algebra knowledge and practice your kids can get. You definitely don’t have to wait for formal Algebra to hand this app to your kids. Being able to visually see how Algebra works can cause the light bulb to go off for many students.

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