Product Review of Symbolab
Symbolab is a website and app that gives educators and learners 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 learners 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 works best as a supplement to classroom materials and helps learners — and educators — 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, learners can also access pre-made or custom quizzes, giving educators the ability to create content specific to what their class is currently learning or to allow learners 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 learners 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.
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 learners to explore complex equations and to help educators build very clear explanations. However, in order for Symbolab to be effective, educators need to consider how learners 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 learners 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 learners, 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 learners to work through their solutions using the system. Therefore, another method (such as pen and paper) is required for learners to work out their solutions before entering their final answer.
Overall User Consensus About the App
This simple calculations tool has a straightforward interface with no bells or whistles, but the free version is covered in ads.
Curriculum and Instruction
A few tutorial videos on the features and step-by-step hints for learners provide a fair level of support for Symbolab users on the web or through an app.