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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.

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