The world’s largest maker of computer operating systems and productivity tools is getting into the curriculum software business, too: Microsoft Corp. has released a math software product, Microsoft Math 3.0, designed to help students complete math and science homework with parental assistance.
Earlier versions of the product were integrated into Microsoft’s Student with Encarta Premium software. But Math 3.0 is a standalone product that can be downloaded from Microsoft’s web site.
With Math 3.0, Microsoft’s software engineers have applied their math expertise to meet what they perceive as a serious need. According to an independent survey commissioned by Microsoft, 77 percent of teachers and 73 percent of parents claim math and science are the most difficult homework subjects for students, while only 36 percent of parents said they felt capable to help their children.
“We really saw that there was a great need for mathematics-focused software,” said Ben Kunz, a program manager at Microsoft. “Math really resonated as one of those areas of tremendous need for those tools, not just here in the U.S. but also worldwide.”
Kunz said Microsoft education executives noted that as students transition out of typical arithmetic-based math and move up to pre-algebra and algebra–areas with more abstract concepts–they tend to struggle.
Microsoft officials worked with students and teachers while developing the software, and Kunz said parental involvement in math homework influenced the way they designed the product.
“Many parents don’t feel comfortable helping students with math. When a student enters a problem [into the software], parents can sit side-by-side with their child while they work through the steps,” he said.
Kunz said the tool should help students understand and work through their math problems with a visual approach.
“It’s really complementary to knowledge gathered in the classroom and from the teacher,” he said. “It reinforces lessons at that crucial moment when [students are] working on a problem and there isn’t anyone there to help them through that critical step where they may have done the first five steps correctly, but don’t see the answer or the trick to the sixth step.”
He added: “We look at it as a tool that allows students to focus on a problem-based approach.”
Microsoft Math 3.0 helps students tackle complicated problems in pre-algebra, algebra, trigonometry, calculus, physics, and chemistry. The software is intended to help deepen students’ overall understanding of these subjects by invoking a full-featured graphing calculator and step-by-step instructions on how to solve difficult problems.
It also features tools such as a library with more than 100 common math equations and formulas, a triangle application, and a unit-conversion tool.
Many math problems have several ways to solve them, and Kunz said the software highlights all the different methods available so students are able to learn the different methods that apply to any given problem.
“Students often become annoyed when they can’t finish their math homework quickly and waste time searching for help,” said Dave Brooks, education products group manager at Microsoft. “Microsoft Math helps reduce that frustration by providing a one-stop shop for help with math and science.”
“When solving a quadratic equation, Microsoft Math doesn’t just churn and spit out one of the solutions,” said Jonathan Briggs, a high school math teacher at East Side Preparatory School in Kirkland, Wash., who has used the software. “Instead, it shows you both solutions and how to obtain them using square completion or the quadratic equation.”
Instructors also can use the software as a visual component to their curriculum, demonstrating abstract concepts and helping to keep students engaged throughout the lesson, Microsoft says.
“Microsoft Math provides a space for nurturing student learning in mathematics with dynamic visualizations. The program provides essential ingredients for classroom environments designed to challenge all students to engage in visual thinking,” said Margaret L. Neiss, professor for mathematics education at Oregon State University.
The software has a three-dimensional function that Kunz said is helpful in the classroom, especially if a teacher is introducing a topic such as conics.
“Instead of drawing on the blackboard, the teacher can use that 3D graphic function, and students can see it displayed,” he said.
A standalone version of Microsoft Math 3.0 can be downloaded for $19.95, and academic volume licensing also is available.