Thursday, September 14, 2017

My journey from g(Math) to EquatIO (and yours)

g(Math) was my baby...Well, I actually had a baby about the same time as g(Math), but it still holds a very special place in my heart. My goal at the time, and still today, was to make digital math creation delightful, intuitive, and fun. g(Math) was the first step to reaching that goal.

For 3 years after creating g(Math), almost all I thought about was how I could improve it in order to increase student engagement and make it even easier for teachers to create digital math. Millions of teachers and students installed g(Math), making it one of the most popular Google Add-ons and making my dream a reality. Every day I woke up in awe that I had the ability to impact math in the classroom on such a wide scale.

Knowing My Limits

Despite my efforts to continue improving g(Math), I recognized my limits.

I learned how to code in order to make g(Math). I poured over StackOverflow for hundreds of hours, leaned on some amazing educoders on Google+ like Andrew Stillman, Romain Vialard, Dave Abouav, Saurabh Gupta, and Eric Koleda, and finally gained my chops as a glorified copy and paste commando.

The g(Math) product that you see today pretty much maxed out all my skills, all that I could do - from a time, financial, and skill standpoint. I knew there was more to be done, but I also knew I couldn’t get there on my own.

The Driving Force Behind My Partnership with Texthelp

I had come to a cross-roads. My lack of time meant that I couldn’t sustain both teaching full-time and supporting g(Math). What had to give? So, I decided to stop teaching and focus full-time on development. However, that lead to the question of finance.

When considering monetization of g(Math), there were a handful of things to consider, which I did, very carefully. Obviously the ideal would be to find a way to keep g(Math) free. After all, I understand what it’s like to spend money on my classroom and my students, and I didn’t want teachers to have to sacrifice even more of their own finances for my product.

But, free is tricky. If an app is not making money directly from its users, there are only a handful of ways it can make money: ads or data.

After working 3+ years to create a better user experience for teachers and students when making math digital, the last thing I wanted to do was inundate g(Math) with annoying ads. Who wants that?! Not only are they annoying, but they could also be inappropriate for my diverse user base, particularly young students. I wasn’t prepared to take that risk. No way!

And then, of course, there’s selling data for monetization, which is an absolute no-go when it comes to user privacy - and especially student privacy. So, that was out of the question.

What I determined was that I had to find a reputable company to partner with that would help fund my product. Enter Texthelp.

What I love about Texthelp

Not only did Texthelp want to acquire g(Math) and hire me to keep developing it, but they also came to the table with three key promises: 1) they would keep the aspects of g(Math) that were popular, valuable and reliable; 2) those aspects would remain FREE forever; and 3) they would take my vision of what g(Math) could become and turn it into a reality.

With those three promises in mind, we developed EquatIO. And I believe we have stayed true to those original promises.

Let’s talk about Forms for a second

A lot of people have been upset by the fact the integration with Google Forms is a paid feature of EquatIO. In their defence, we did say that we would keep popular g(Math) tools free forever (see above). But, if I can be real for a minute, g(Math) did not work well in Forms. I created it, and I’m the first one to admit it.

You couldn’t insert math directly into the Form questions and students couldn’t use g(Math) to insert their responses. It was clunky, unreliable and didn’t offer that much value since the user experience was so poor. Again, I hated using it, and I created it!

That is why one of the first things we did when we designed EquatIO was to build a Forms integration that worked better for teachers and students.

Here is a side-by-side comparison of the teacher experience:

In g(Math)

In EquatIO

And here's a side-by-side comparison of the student experience:

In g(Math)

In EquatIO

And why make it cost money? That goes back to the above about free products. Free isn’t sustainable or secure. We would love to give you EquatIO for free - and in fact, many key features of it are ! - but some form of payment for a product makes it legitimate. Because you’re not just paying for the product itself. You’re also paying for quality support, continued development, robust data protection, and so much more.

Join the Journey

If you haven’t yet, install EquatIO today and see how far we’ve come from g(Math). At first, it may be an adjustment. But I’ve found that the more I explore in EquatIO, the easier and more intuitive it becomes.

And just like with g(Math), we’re committed to improving the product. So, please provide any and all feedback about EquatIO in our feedback form. Thanks!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Math made digital: EquatIO is here!

Math made digital: EquatIO is here!

At Texthelp we’re about much more than literacy. I would like to introduce EquatIO, our easy-to-use Chrome extension that takes the hassle out of creating equations, formulas and math quizzes on your computer or tablet.

EquatIO banner - make math digital

The tech-enabled classroom is here, and today’s students are often more likely to pick up their Chromebooks than pen and paper to complete an assignment. So isn’t it something of a surprise to find that math and STEM subjects have been left behind?
It’s still common to see math teachers carrying piles of paper worksheets between classes, or laboriously copying written answers and test scores into a Student Information System. What’s more, many students have been left struggling without the personalized support and resources they take for granted in other subjects.
Despite efforts to introduce technology into math classes, teachers and students find it tricky writing equations, formulas and other expressions on a computer or mobile device. Even writing a basic fraction like ‘three quarters’ (¾) with your keyboard isn’t easy. And what about square root signs, fractions, powers - or other mathematical symbols and expressions?
There are various mathematical description languages out there - like LaTeX - that teachers and students can use to write digital math. But you have to think like a programmer, with hard-to-remember codes and key combinations to write something relatively easy like the solution to a quadratic equation:
This lack of a simple way to insert math expressions challenges teachers and students at all levels, and across the whole range of STEM subjects. Rather than enhancing learning and improving communication between teachers and students, technology has created additional barriers in the math classroom. Until now.

"We believe the time is right to provide tools for teachers and their students to create and respond to math digitally" - Martin McKay
Now we can make math digital with EquatIO. Launched today, our new Chrome extension takes the pain out of creating equations, formulas, and math quizzes. Designed around UDL principles, it’s a natural complement to our other literacy products that help young people and adults read, write and express themselves more confidently. 

Input’s easy: you don’t need to know any complicated math code. EquatIO understands what you’re typing or handwriting, instantly turning your expressions into clear, accurate on-screen formulas. And it works on Windows, Mac and Chromebook, so it’s great for BYOD classrooms.

Handwriting recognition converts your handwritten work into clear, accurate equations
EquatIO boosts classroom collaboration, allowing teachers and students to type, handwrite or dictate virtually any mathematical expression directly on their keyboard or touchscreen - quickly and confidently. It’s your smart assistant, with intuitive prediction realizing that you mean ‘square root’ when you type ‘sq’. And it’s clever enough to ignore your ‘umms’ and ‘errs’ when you’re dictating a formula aloud.

Math prediction takes the pain out writing digital math
Much more than a replacement for pen and paper, EquatIO makes math and STEM more accessible in today’s classrooms - finally giving them the boost that technology has already given other classroom subjects.

"With EquatIO, we're bringing math back in line with other classroom subjects where technology has transformed teaching." - John McGowan
You can try EquatIO for free at the Chrome Store. After 30 days, use of premium features requires a license. Give it a go today – and see how we’re making math digital.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Silent blog and upcoming g(Math) Tips series

I have been really busy with my transition from the classroom to the software developer world (and I am sure all of you teachers out there are super busy as well) and realized I have been neglecting my blog. Additionally I have been moving away from Google+ and posting on Twitter (follow me!) as well. (Ugh, I spent so much time cultivating my Google+ platform...)

So I am going to try to make a concerted effort to blog more and also to come back to Google+ more and be more active.

One way I am going to do this is to do a g(Math) tips series. We launched an update back in November and I realized I never followed up on that initial launch post!
Over the next few weeks, I plan on blogging frequently and hope to continue it moving forward!

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.