HeyMath update - I’m in

By Murray Bourne, 22 Sep 2005

I requested more information from HeyMath and they opened an evaluation account for me.

First impressions: It is based on British sytem (lessons are classified as Secondary 1 to Secondary 4, Mathematics and Additional Mathematics). This covers topics from basic algebra to early calculus. (Such a classification alienates the countries that don't use British system).

The first topic I had a look at was Secondary 4 → Additional Mathematics → Applications of Integration → "Integration and Area". (Each new window is an annoying popup.)

HeyMath is basically a standard math textbook delivered via Flash animation. But it is so algebra-based! Why are we doing it? How does it affect me (beyond having to pass an exam in it)? Where is the initial motivational practical problem? Where is the excitement of discovery? Where is the interactivity (beyond clicking the "next" button)? It's clever Flash animation and there has been a huge amount of work go into it, but at the end of the day, it is math for math's sake. It assumes the reader is fascinated with algebra, formulas and graphs. But sorry, the vast majority of math students are bored and/or confused. The "Applications" section is not applications at all - it is just using the formulas - plugging in numbers with little need to grasp what is going on.

I often rant about how notation is one of the great confusers in math. Lots of students just wouldn't get the meaning of the following line from HeyMath:

δA = A(x + δx) - A(x)

Say what? Is that first term on the right A × x + A × δ × x? Don't laugh - when we first learn algebra, that's what we are told. (This is not HeyMath's fault - we really need to do something about simplifying math notation.)

Back to HeyMath. In the examples, we are not even given a "You try it" before being given the answer. It is all delivery, delivery, delivery. Sigh...

HeyMath has solutions for past-year exams, presumably the O- and A-level exams that students do in Singapore. I notice that the emphasis in the exams is on algebraic techniques (lower-order thinking) and not fundamental understanding of how the mathematics is applied in any kind of "real" situation (higher-order thinking).

"Ask HeyMath" is a good feature, though - you can type a question and include simple math symbols and also attach a file. This question is presumably answered by some support person in India.

The evaluation version didn't let me go into "Manage Assignments". Apparently this is a place where teachers can set up particular assignments for their students.

Verdict? I'm disappointed that they have missed an opportunity. They have excellent Flash programmers (it is all done very neatly and clearly) but HeyMath is basically an electronic page turner - a text-book. The power of Flash should be used to do e-learning properly, as in Schank and Making History.

Update (11 Oct): My trial is running out soon so I thought I would go in and take another look. Maybe I was too harsh?

But now I like it even less. I looked at more topics and found the same thing each time - a page turner. The students may as well just use a textbook - it is equally as boring, especially if you are not starting with some real-life application.

In Firefox, the "Math Tools" (some graphing utilities) did not work at all. I changed to the dinosaur browser (IE), and tried again. IE downloaded an (old) java runtime plugin and crashed when I tried to access the tools again. In IE, there were popup windows flying all over the place. Because of the errors and since my time and patience had run out, I gave up.

See the 11 Comments below.

11 Comments on “HeyMath update - I’m in”

  1. aneesh says:

    search for balavidya.com
    try it and find the usse of multimedia in e learning successfully implemented.

  2. Janie says:

    Before publicly displaying your comments, you should have questioned HeyMath!. You would have found that you were wrong on a number of things.

  3. Murray says:

    Hi Aneesh - thanks for your suggestion. I did have a look at balavidya.com and I found it to be rather similar to Heymath!, in that it was very algebra heavy with little reason (beyond exams) for students to do it.

    Janie - thanks for your comment. I am giving my reaction to Heymath! - it is an opinion piece. Please be more specific about the things you feel I am wrong about and I shall look again. If I have presented factual inaccuracies, I will correct them here.

  4. Brigitte says:

    So what altenative would you suggest to lear fundamental math?

  5. Murray says:

    Hello Brigitte and thanks for your question.

    Why do we learn mathematics? Is it so that we can use algebraic techniques? Or is it so that we can solve problems? Is it useful to know how to solve a quadratic equation or is it useful to be able to work out how much I can borrow to buy a house, why is my credit card debt so huge, why is it riskier to drive my car (without wearing a safety belt), to the airport than it is to fly somewhere, why did the crane collapse? Sure, fundamental algebra is important to solve all of these problems, but to me there is no point in learning the algebra just for its own sake.

    The Heymath! developers have excellent Flash skills, but they have used them to produce a product that - to me at least - is not much more than a math textbook that I can view on my computer screen.

    In my article, I suggested that Schank's simulation approach to e-learning should have been considered. This would have meant that Heymath would have been less algebra-based and been more application-based. In this way, students would have been placed in situations where they would need to make decisions, and to learn from the result of those decisions.

    So my point is that we should teach mathematics in the context of problem solving, not just teach basic algebra for the sake of it. If Heymath is not worried about application and only wants to churn through algebra, it should lead the student through that algebra (getting them to make choices as they go) rather than just telling them all the steps.

  6. Gurj says:

    You did not answer Brigitte's question. I assume that you have compared Heymath to other better products. What is your recommendation!

    You seem to believe that Heymath is just a flash version of textbooks. Perhaps some students find little bit of interaction provided via flash animation enough to keep them going. The product provide easy gratification.
    I would be interested in finding out if you have evaluated a better product. What about trying out feedback from target audience.

  7. Murray says:

    Hi Gurj. I think you are right - I took Brigitte's question to mean "what would you recommend to the developers of Heymath so that it would be a better product and students would be better able to learn fundamental math from it?" (which I addressed), but it could also mean "What other product out there is better?".

    Sadly, I have not come across the kind of product I am talking about, so my article is not a comparison - it is a reaction to what could and should have been done in Heymath.

    One company that is doing a lot of good work in the right direction is futurelab. The simulations that they are producing have most of the characteristics I am talking about, for example they are simulations (putting students into some kind of scenario), require decisions based on fundamental knowledge and higher order thinking, and students learn from the outcomes of their decisions.

    Unfortunately they do not appear to have any mathematics-only simulations (and I suspect that is deliberate - mathematics knowledge should flow from examining some real-life scenario, not always be learned for its own sake). However, the physics-based Racing Academy game is highly stimulating, fun, engaging and above all, it requires higher order thinking in the decision making, for which you need more knowledge. It is now available for free download - go and check it out.

  8. nishi jairam says:

    see i have a heymath account but the problem is that i have forgotten the password.i am a vidya mandir student.i am studying in vidya mandir senior secondary mylapore chennai.what am i supposed to do?

  9. Murray says:

    Hi Nishi. You may have gathered on reading the above that I have no connection with Heymath, but I'll help you anyway. Follow their website's "Forgot your password?" link.

  10. Don says:

    The problem is everyone focuses on teaching, and skills are mastered only with practice. HeyMath teaches (so do teachers), but fails to make math fun enough for students to practice on their own.

    Check out http://www.firstinmath.in, a US product thats been out for a while. It doesn't teach at all- just motivates students to practice on their own.

    It actually is a nice supplement for HeyMath.

  11. Murray says:

    Hi Don. It sounds interesting, but there is no "free look" on that site so I can't see what they are trying to do.

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