If your students search the web for "math homework help", you may be surprised by what they will find. They will find cheat-sites that perform homework assignments for a fee! However, there are lots of free, constructively helpful sites. You should be aware of these sites and be clear with your students about what use of these sites is OK with you. This article summarizes what students will find, and describes one site, www.hotmath.org, in particular.
There are free bulletin-board sites where a student can post or email homework questions and a web-teacher will respond, perhaps within an hour or so. MathGoodies.com is one such site. Of course, in order to be most helpful, the web-teacher needs to know the "context" of the question, such as "what are you learning in class right now." For example, there are lots of methods that can be applied to "factor ".
There are automatic problem solvers on the web, such as quickmath.com and calc101.com. Here, a student can enter an expression or formula and get an answer to polynomial factoring, multiplication, long division, integration, and differentiation. These sites can be helpful to students who want to confirm that they have solved a problem correctly.
Some sites maintain a database of frequently asked questions with associated, tutorial solutions (e.g., www.mathforum.org/dr.math). Students can search for a problem similar to one they have for homework, in hopes that the tutorial will be relevant to their problem. Similarly, some publishers have sites with practice problems that can be used to prepare for tests.
Also, there is an excellent site with a hyper-linked math textbook (Sosmath.com). Students who couldn't follow the textbook explanation or the teacher lecture can turn here for yet another description of a troublesome concept that may be needed to complete homework.
One site, www.hotmath.org, has tutorial solutions to the odd-numbered homework problems in most of the popular math textbooks used in California. A student clicks on textbook and page number, and selects the troublesome problem number from a list on the screen. The site instantly begins a tutorial, interactive explanation for how to do the actual problem. The student is presented with a self-paced sequence of explained hints and explained steps, right up to the final answer! For many problems, the student is prompted with a question at some point during the solution. The Hotmath tutorial solutions seek to mimic what a tutor or teacher would say if a student asked for help on the problem. Each solution is prepared in the context (methods and vocabulary) of the textbook, chapter and section. Here are a few hints and steps from a sample introductory word problem in algebra 1. Try to imagine each hint and step being shown on an attractively designed screen in an engaging way:
PROBLEM: Find three consecutive odd integers that add up to 105
HINT-1: Consecutive means one after another. For example, 13 and 15 are consecutive odd numbers.
STEP-1: Choose a variable to represent the smallest of the three odd numbers, call it N.
HINT-2: How can the other two odd numbers be represented?
STEP-2: The other two odd numbers can be represented as N+2 and N+4.
And so on. It would be best to visit the site to see for yourself.
Hotmath is intended to be a resource for under-performing students who may not have math help at home or may not have the confidence or motivation to complete homework assignments. The "magic" of our site is that students may come here instead of giving up, while they might not otherwise seek help in the fear that it will be too time-consuming or too embarrassing. What we find is that students start to build confidence as a result of using the site, and can frequently convert from failing students to very successful students. Hotmath is based on over a decade of research that indicates that viewing worked solutions is superior to struggling, especially for under-performing students. The PressRoom page of the Hotmath website has a summary of this research.
Hotmath has been in use now for over two years and has over 100,000 teacher-edited solutions for over 30 popular math textbooks from pre-algebra through calculus. Last year the site was for-pay at $9 per month. This year the site is free, as we decided to try to help as many students as possible (and seek sponsorships to cover costs).
The availability of some of these sites, especially Hotmath, raises some questions. Is it "fair" if homework is graded and one student uses Hotmath and another doesn't? Will students mindlessly rely on Hotmath rather than thinking for themselves? Is it "cheating" if a student relies on a Hotmath solution to complete an assignment? Hotmath only answers odd-numbered problems for most textbooks, so teachers can assign a mix of problems for practice versus assessment and challenges. Virtually every teacher we have spoken with favors Hotmath usage after some classroom experience, and feels that the benefits of Hotmath availability far outweigh the risks.
Another fairness issue is that many students still do not have the Internet at home. These students must be informed about all their options for free Internet use in your community.
Our recommendations for teacher usage of Hotmath are as follows: 1) Use Hotmath in class to reduce prep time for classroom examples. 2) Assign a mix of 2/3 odds and 1/3 evens for homework. 3) Require that each student visits the site so they can see that help is available 24/7 4) Give extra credit for any student who finds an error in a Hotmath solution!
One gratifying aspect of our site is the success we seem to be having with ESL students who may have trouble understanding their teacher or the textbook explanations. We keep our explanations succinct in order to keep students engaged, and this seems to help.
Testimonials submitted to Hotmath are voluminous and unanimous in their message: Hotmath helps students who were previously failing, to earn honor grades. We hear this time and again, and hope you will visit www.hotmath.org and form your own opinion.
Oh, by the way, I'm involved with Hotmath as you may have guessed by now.