Review by Pamela Brittain, Common Sense Education | Updated May 2019

Symbolab

All-too-easy tool for solving, and seeing, step-by-step math solutions

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • Math

Skills
  • Critical Thinking
Grades 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.
8–12
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Pros: Can solve just about any math question and show detailed steps; great for proofs and complex questions.

Cons: Students can view answers without developing an understanding of how they were reached; the paid version has the most useful learning features.

Bottom Line: A great visual tool for students and teachers to explore complex math equations, though some may use it just to get quick answers.

Symbolab works best as a supplement to classroom materials and helps students -- and teachers -- step through solutions to various equations (from simple to complex). Students can practice various skills, especially with a paid account (the free account is limited to only a few practice topics and questions). With a paid account, students can also access pre-made or custom quizzes, giving teachers the ability to create content specific to what their class is currently learning or to allow students to practice supplemental materials (either filling in gaps or extending their skills to topics not being covered).

The hints provided by Symbolab are good at guiding students who may be stuck but don't take the place of instruction in the classroom. It also provides a very handy "cheat sheet" that covers a large number of math concepts.

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Symbolab is a website and app that gives teachers and students a powerful tool for exploring math equations and seeing, step by step, how they're solved. The interface is fairly intuitive and plain, and the tool provides a number of tutorial videos. A free account (with ads) gives basic solutions to almost any math problem, including showing graphical representations to allow students to see how the equations, and proofs, are worked out in a clear set of steps. To get into some of the more useful parts of Symbolab (practice questions, quizzes, an unlimited notebook) a paid subscription is required. 

Symbolab provides a number of examples that can be viewed to get an idea of how to approach a solution without solving the exact questions being asked. However, those examples can be easily altered to reflect the questions being asked.

Symbolab feels like it was developed by mathematicians for mathematicians. The interface is very plain and the focus is really just on showing solutions to math equations. It's a great tool for allowing students to explore complex equations and to help teachers build very clear explanations. However, in order for Symbolab to be effective, teachers need to consider how students are using it. Symbolab makes it very easy for kids to simply copy step-by-step solutions from the tool into any assignment without gaining the knowledge behind why they're writing each step. For the practice questions, hints are provided, but if enough hints are clicked, the final answer is simply given. 

In this way, Symbolab can be both good and bad for learning. For students who really study each step and try to understand where each part comes from, it can be a great visual tool to help them understand how to solve an equation, graph a function, or work through a proof. For other students, it may be a quick way to just get the answer without developing an understanding of how or why. Another drawback to Symbolab is that it asks for a final answer but doesn't provide space for students to work through their solutions using the system. Therefore, another method (such as pen and paper) is required for students to work out their solutions before entering their final answer.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

This simple calculations tool has a straightforward interface with no bells or whistles, but the free version is covered in ads.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Through step-by-step directions, this powerful calculator can help students better understand math equations, though some students might skip them for the easy answer. 

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

A few tutorial videos on the features and step-by-step hints for students provide a fair level of support for Symbolab users on the web or through an app. 


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