Assistive technology for math

At a glance

  • Assistive technology (AT) can be a big help for people who struggle with math.

  • Some AT math tools are very common, like calculators.

  • Others, like digital graphing tools, are lesser known, but can be just as helpful.

When kids and adults have trouble with math, (AT) can offer a lot of support. Many math AT tools — like calculators — are common, inexpensive, and easy to get. Others are lesser known, but can be just as useful.

Use this guide to learn about what tools are available, and where to get them.

Types of assistive technology tools for math

Here are some of the most helpful AT tools for math.

Calculators can help solve math problems, both simple and complex. Most people know about basic electronic calculators. But kids who struggle with math may prefer calculators that have buttons with large numbers and symbols. There are many kinds of calculators, from graphing calculators to computer apps. Some can even solve equations with variables.

Math notation tools let you write or type out the special symbols and numbers used for math equations. For example, the symbols in x = −b ± √(b<sup>2</sup> − 4ac)/2a. Writing out these equations by hand can be challenging for people who have trouble writing numbers and symbols. And most traditional word processors aren’t great at handling math symbols.

Graph paper has a grid that makes it easier to line up numbers and symbols in math problems. That’s important when keeping track of things like place value. Students often write on traditional graph paper with a pencil. Some may prefer graph paper that has large squares. There’s also digital graph paper.

Graphing tools help with graphing the path created by an equation. For example, y = x<sup>2</sup> would be graphed as a parabola. Students who take algebra or calculus can use these tools to solve graphing problems.

Drawing tools help with drawing lines, shapes, angles, and other geometric features. Traditional classroom tools like rulers, stencils, and protractors can help with drawing. There also are specific computer programs for drawing. Students who study geometry or trigonometry may find them helpful.

Equation-solving tools are digital tools that help students work with equations. Unlike calculators, equation-solving tools don’t solve a problem. They help students figure out how to solve a problem. For example, an equation-solving tool can help them figure out how to solve for x in 3 + x = 11.

Manipulatives are objects that let you solve math problems in alternative ways. They can also illustrate math concepts. A classic example is the number line. You can use a number line to add or subtract numbers without having to write down any numbers or symbols. Another example is an abacus, which lets you do calculations by moving beads. Manipulatives can also be virtual objects on a computer.

Graphic organizers help break down and lay out the steps for solving math problems. For instance, a graphic organizer for a word problem may have spaces for writing and keeping track of important numbers. Graphic organizers can be digital or pen and paper.

Text-to-speech (TTS) reads aloud numbers and calculations. When used for math, TTS is often combined with other tools, like a talking calculator.

Dictation lets you write out math problems by speaking. Like TTS, dictation can be combined with other AT tools for math. For instance, math notation tools sometimes allow for dictating equations.

Some families worry that using a tool like a calculator will prevent kids from learning math. However, experts say math AT tools may help kids improve math skills, as long as they aren’t overused.

Where to get assistive technology for math

There are many ways to get AT tools for math. You can find traditional “low-tech” classroom tools, like rulers, basic calculators, and graph paper at a school supply store. These stores may also sell calculators with large numbers and symbols, and graph paper with large squares. The school might provide these tools, too.

The school may also provide tools like number lines and blocks. But you can also buy them online.

Today, many AT tools for math are being used on one of three computer platforms:

  • Desktop and laptop computers: Most computers have built-in AT options like calculators. You can try out software programs to help kids with math.
  • Mobile devices (like tablets and smartphones): Mobile devices also have built-in AT. And you can add math tools to mobile devices with apps.
  • Chromebooks (and Chrome browsers on any device): Chromebooks have some built-in AT, too. You can add Chrome apps and extensions to find specific tools to help with math.

Key takeaways

  • Some AT math tools are “low-tech,” like graph paper and rulers.

  • Manipulatives are real or virtual objects that allow you to solve math problems in alternative ways.

  • Many digital math tools are available for free.

About the author

About the author

The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Jules Csillag, MS is a licensed speech-language pathologist who has worked in a variety of settings throughout New York City.


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