How software and apps can help with math challenges

By Molly Touger

Expert reviewed by Shelley Haven

Updated September 29, 2023

Math can be a lifelong struggle for many people, and they may have trouble with more than one skill. But there are assistive technology (AT) apps and software that can help with different math challenges.

Here are some common difficulties people have:

  • Remembering and being able to use math facts such as times tables (math fluency)
  • Writing or keying numbers, symbols, equations, and other math expressions (math notation), as well as graphing and drawing math
  • Understanding abstract math concepts 
  • Solving multi-step equations
  • Understanding and working through word problems

Find out how AT apps and software can help with these math challenges for both kids and adults.

Trouble with math fluency 

Math fluency is the ability to recall math facts quickly and accurately. That includes basic addition and subtraction. People who struggle with this skill may have a hard time doing even simple calculations.

Calculators have long been the most common AT that helps with math fluency. Smartphones, tablets, and computers make it easier than ever to access this support. Most come pre-loaded with calculator apps or software. Features may include:

  • Four-function calculators. The standard calculator app on most phones is a four-function calculator. These tools can help with basic math but also help students bypass math fluency problems as they learn more complex math.
  • Advanced calculators (like scientific financial calculators). They can be used to do things like graph data, calculate interest, or convert currency. On the iPhone, the basic calculator becomes a scientific calculator if you rotate your device from portrait to landscape. 
  • Free or low-cost iOS and Android advanced calculator apps. These calculators often have special functions such as working with fractions or with money.
  • Virtual assistant tools like Siri and Alexa. These tools let you speak sentences like “What is 12 times 14?” into your device. Then the calculator does the math, and the virtual assistant tells you the answer. Speaking the question can help you avoid pitfalls of entering the information by hand, like double taps or missed taps. There are also talking calculators, like the ones in Macs.

Trouble with math notation, graphing, and drawing 

Some people struggle with math notation. They have trouble writing out equations and symbols or keeping numbers in a column lined up. They often have trouble writing quickly and legibly, especially kids. Math notation apps and software let you key in numbers and symbols. That can keep calculations organized.

Tools that can help with this trouble spot include:

  • Math grid apps that allow you to key numbers into virtual graph paper
  • Math equation editor apps that support typing symbols and equations for math, physics, and chemistry
  • Graphing tools to plot the path of an equation
  • Drawing apps for drawing lines, shapes, and other geometric objects
  • Speech-to-math apps or software, a special kind of dictation (speech recognition) technology that types out math expressions and equations that you speak
  • Math handwriting recognition software that converts what you write on a touchpad or touchscreen into a typed version (this tends to work better with clearer handwriting)

Trouble understanding math concepts 

Some people struggle with basic math concepts like amounts or more or less. Manipulatives can help. These are objects you can use to make concepts more concrete. These can be physical objects, like an abacus or small blocks. But there are also many digital ones available online or as apps.

Trouble with math problem-solving processes 

If the challenge is problem-solving, equation-solving apps can be a huge help. They can help you figure out how to solve a problem, such as how to solve for x. Most show the steps you took to solve the problem, which means they also show the answer.

How to find features

Ready to look for an AT tool to help with math challenges? Many of these features are built into devices like computers, tablets, and mobile devices. There are also many free and low-cost apps. In some cases, one tool may have multiple features that help with math.

Want to learn more about AT?

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