Monday, January 16, 2017

10 Q&As with John McGowan - the STEM Texthelper!

By now, you’ve probably heard some mumblings about Texthelp and our newest product g(Math), a tool that is making math digital. You may be saying to yourself, “But I thought Texthelp was all about tech for reading and writing?” And we were. Until John McGowan, the developer of g(Math), joined the team and we added math to our portfolio.

To learn more about John’s story, the history of g(Math), and what’s coming up next, we sat down with John for a brief Q&A. Check it out here!
1. What did you do before joining Texthelp?
Prior to Texthelp, I spent more than a decade teaching math to students at all levels across the United States, Asia and South America.

2. When did you first discover the value of leveraging technology in the math classroom?
Back in college, I took Calculus III with a very influential professor. While uncommon at the time, this professor frequently leveraged computers and advanced modeling to engage his students with the subject matter. This sparked my interest in combining math and technology in the classroom.

3. When you started teaching, did you work to integrate computers and technology into your classrooms as well?
I tried, but it didn’t catch on as well as I’d hoped. I realized it was very hard to teach Middle School and High School students how to type math, since that requires knowledge of advanced programming languages like LaTeX. So, students preferred to handwrite functions rather than use computers.

4. Why was it so important for you to get your students to use computers in the math classroom?
Technology brings a certain excitement to the room. Today’s students have grown up with technology and use it throughout the day - both for fun and educational purposes. So, as soon as I asked my students to put their computers away and take out their pencil and paper, I could see them mentally shut down and disengage with the material.

5. Is this where g(Math) comes in?
Yes. I saw this as a personal challenge to overcome. So, I started learning code, specifically Google Apps Script, in order to develop a program that enabled students to use technology to do math without extensive knowledge of advanced programming languages. The final result - g(Math).

6. What was the response to g(Math)?
I was blown away by the response. My students loved working with g(Math), and it was wonderful to see so many of them re-engage with the material. However, I was even more surprised by the response from teachers. After using g(Math), teachers saw the value of bringing technology into the classroom. Not only did g(Math) assist student’s efforts, but it also improved teaching efficiency. It was a win-win for everyone, and it became a top priority of mine to continue to grow and improve the tool so that everyone could experience the value of digital math.

7. How did you know Texthelp was the right choice to take g(Math) to the next level?
Creating math digitally is in fact an accessibility problem, and Texthelp is the leading provider of accessible solutions. Plus, their support team is top-notch and their development team knows how to work with Google products. After all, Texthelp was named the 2015 Google Technology Partner of the Year and they have over 5 million Read&Write for Google Chrome users.

8. Texthelp has historically been very literacy focused. Has it been challenging to introduce a math product into the mix? Were you concerned that Texthelp was too literacy focused?
Not at all. In fact, I believe that math is a form of communication just like reading or writing. “Show your work” is a common phrase heard in every math classroom. That’s because math is more about explaining how you got your answer rather than the answer itself. g(Math) introduces a digital way for students to easily demonstrate and communicate their thinking. Moreover, Texthelp is fundamentally about helping individuals understand and be understood, which transcends all subjects.

9. What’s it been like working with Texthelp so far? 
It’s been great! Since joining Texthelp, we’ve really taken g(Math) to the next level. Within the first few months, we’ve accomplished so much and received great feedback from both old and new g(Math) users. I can guarantee that even bigger and better updates are on the way!

10. Can you tell us anything about the future of g(Math)?
We have a lot planned. First of all, we don’t want to limit ourselves to math. We want to support other STEM subjects through the product, most notably science. Second, we really want to beef up the prediction feature. We want teachers and students at all levels and skill sets to be able to sit down with g(Math) for the first time and write out an equation without any prior training or knowledge. Finally, and most importantly, we want it to meet the needs of our users - the students and teachers that experience the benefits of making math digital.

Monday, November 21, 2016

g(Math) just got smarter - and lots more fun!

g(Math) is a Google Add-on that I started developing back in 2013 that makes it quick and easy to create equations, graphs, stats displays and math quizzes to insert in Google Docs, Sheets, and Forms. Earlier this year, g(Math) became the newest addition to the Texthelp product suite.  As such, Texthelp’s expert developers and I have improved upon my original design to create a more simple and intuitive tool for creating digital, accessible math. Just like your students who have already grown so much since the start of the new school year, so has g(Math).

Continue reading to see all of the latest and greatest updates we’ve made to the g(Math) Add-on, along with some short demo videos you can use to share these updates with your students and colleagues.  Over the last several years, technology has become a critical learning tool inside and outside the classroom. However, the math classroom has largely been overlooked during this transition. That’s because it’s difficult to type math without the use of advanced code or programming languages. As a math teacher, I could see students disengage with the subject as soon as they were forced to put their computers away and take out their pencils and papers. That’s why I built g(Math), a tool that makes math digital.

With the latest updates to the g(Math) Add-on, creating digital math has become even more seamless, integrated, intuitive, and most importantly, accessible. 

Accessibility for Math

g(Math) now produces accessible math in Google Docs and Forms! Through integration with Texthelp’s award-winning literacy software, Read&Write, math expressions created in g(Math) can now be read aloud, just like any other content on the page . By making math accessible for the first time in Google Apps, we are transforming the way students with dyslexia and other learning difficulties learn and practice math. 

Simple Expression Entry

We have simplified the expressions entry in g(Math) to make it much more user friendly for students. Yup, you guessed it, no more LaTeX needed! However, if you loved the pre-populated buttons and LaTeX entry, have no fear. Just click on the Advanced tab and keep your geekiness flowing.

Watch the video below to see the Simple and Advanced inputs in action!

Intuitive Speech Input

The Speech Input feature, which can be launched from both the Simple or Advanced tabs, also got an update. It now has improved filtering capabilities so that it only picks up math terms - no matter what else you say into the mic. If you do have to make any edits to the math it interprets, you can do so directly after stopping the Speech Input.

Watch the magic of g(Math)'s Speech Input here:

Handwriting Entry Enhancements

For those that find it easier to handwrite equations, we have revamped the Handwriting Entry feature to easily integrate handwritten work into your digital Google document. The streamlined interface provides a more intuitive experience and now includes a variety of design options for advanced customization.

Check out the video below to see how the Handwriting Entry feature can help students show their thought process when solving equations.

High-Resolution Images

Another feature we’ve included in this release is the addition of high-resolution images that won’t get blurry or pixelated when you resize them in a document (finally!). Just insert an image and drag it to your desired size - always maintaining its sharp, crisp resolution. These high-res images also look great when you copy and paste them into a Google Slide for presenting math.

One More Thing You’ll Notice

When you first visit the updated g(Math) Add-on, you will meet our new math Texthelpers. They will ask you to identify yourself as a student or a teacher. If you are a teacher, they will ask you to enter your school district before you can continue on to the updated g(Math) experience. After your first visit, you will never be asked to enter this information again.

With this information, we will be able to let you know about all of the new and exciting g(Math) features and updates coming down the pipe. We’ve got some great plans for the future of g(Math) that we can’t wait to share with you. So stay tuned for more updates in the coming months.

In the meantime, if you have any feedback about the recent updates to g(Math), we’d love to hear from you! Simply fill out our feedback form or join our community of educators to share your thoughts.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Exciting announcement: I am leaving the classroom to develop g(Math) full-time!

tl;dr: I am excited to announce that after the end of this school year (mid-June) I will be leaving the classroom to develop g(Math) full-time! In the meantime, please bear with me as it might take longer to respond to issues as the school year wraps up.

long version: Back in 2013 (I only know based on my blogposts) I started to learn how to code in Google Apps Script. In the past 3 years, I have found a passion for developing g(Math). But this passion has only been my hobby. I have been a full-time classroom teacher and coding in my free time. For all you teachers out there, we all know that the students come first and like all of you I am super busy during this time of year (IB exams, preparing for the end of the semester, AP exams, coming back from Spring Break, etc...). I normally wake up around 3AM to code and provide support for g(Math) and pride myself on responding to help requests within 24 hours.
As g(Math) has grown, I have been humbled by the support and rate at which people around the world have used it! I must admit that it is flattering that some people out there think I am a Google employee and that Google actively supports g(Math) (they have an amazing platform, but all the coding has been done solely by me  :).
As a result of its popularity, I can no longer continue g(Math) as a hobby and will be leaving the classroom to develop g(Math) full-time. There are so many features that I want to implement, I am excited to finally have the time to work on them all. At the same time there are issues that pop-up in g(Math) that need my immediate attention and I don't have enough time to continue to teach as well. For example, I had another server issue tonight that broke the expressions for a little bit (I have transferred over to the Google Cloud Engine and have addressed (hopefully) the issue so it won't happen again) and I was working furiously to fix it.
So I hope that you will continue to support g(Math) as I work through this transition period. My students and my teaching do come first, so I can't really provide routine support during my school day hours. As I look back at the first iterations of g(Math) (which I am still extremely proud of), I am amazed how far g(Math) has come and excited to be able to continue to hone the g(Math) experience to become more professional and robust! It will be bittersweet to leave the classroom, my daily interaction with students and my co-workers, but I will always stay connected and have the teacher/student experience in mind when incorporating any features in g(Math)!