Website review by Jeff Knutson, Common Sense Education | Updated October 2013


Overly formal math definitions difficult to comprehend for most kids

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7–12 This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
Subjects & Skills
Math, Critical Thinking

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Pros: Nearly 2000 terms well organized and easily searchable make for easy access.

Cons: Formal language and too many references convolute definitions for most kids.

Bottom Line: Useful for formal terminology study and advanced mathematicians only, this site complicates where it tries to simplify.

Considering that this resource is apparently not core-aligned and hard to understand for all but the most conversant mathematicians in the class, you should probably limit use to advanced individual reference or reserve it for AP classes focusing on advanced terminology.

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Mathwords provides easily-to-locate, formal definitions for about 2000 mathematic terms including a few from physics, finance, and modeling. Most definitions contain multiple references to other terms plus either diagrams or examples, but fewer have textual explanations. About 20 terms are accompanied by a dynamic diagram from McGraw-Hill's Geometer's Sketchpad, and 36 terms populate the real-world application list. Terms can be accessed using four search methods: A to Z, full list, subject areas, or Google powered native-and-paid-web-sites search.

If you just need a little nudge to remember a concept or term you already knew and understood, Mathwords will be a helpful reference. If you don't already have a really strong foundation, it could be quite frustrating. It seems like kids who can easily understand these definitions wouldn't need to look them up here in the first place. For example, multiple careful readings of the interrelated terms accuracy, precise, and significant digits built some understanding but raised unanswered questions as well. A comparison of two definitions of function, the first from the Common Core Standards, demonstrates the problems inherent in Mathwords's formal and reference-laden approach.

Common Core: "A function is a rule that assigns to each input exactly one output. The graph of a function is the set of ordered pairs consisting of an input and the corresponding output."

Mathwords: "function: A relation for which each element of the domain corresponds to exactly one element of the range."

You have to look up four other words to understand Mathwords' definition, which is a lot of work. Even with this formal approach intact, expanded definitions with better examples and diagrams would improve learning significantly.

Overall Rating

Engagement Would it motivate students and hold their interest? Is it visually appealing? Would it inspire teachers to try something new or change their instruction?

Plain, dated interface, sparse textual content, indiscernable diagrams and examples all combine for an uneventful experience.

Pedagogy Does the tool help teachers promote a more student-centered experience? Will students gain conceptual understanding or think critically? Does it deepen teachers’ pedagogical thinking?

Despite depth and accuracy, inaccessible definitions discourage learning.

Support Can students and teachers get assistance when they need it? Is it created with people of different abilities and backgrounds in mind? Is learning reinforced and extended beyond the digital experience?

Though it's well-organized and cross-referenced, kids will struggle with clarity of definitions and find themselves frustrated by the lack of help.

Common Sense reviewer
Jeff Knutson Common Sense Education

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Jennifer H. , Other
This is an easy-to-use math reference site that can be used by students, parents, and teachers to introduce or review math concepts.
Mathwords should not be utilized as a teaching tool, but can be used to reference a specific math word or concept. It wasn't designed to be an interactive site, but more of an informative site for reference and quick explanations. It will be necessary to use other resources in order to practice math skills and gain a better understanding of math concepts.
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