By tpm | January 12, 2012
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The last few days I’ve been playing around with Softmath’s product for helping students learn algebra: Algebrator. There seems to be a lot of curiosity about this product, so I wanted to do an Algebrator review to let my readers know what the product about. As of the writing of this review, it costs $58.99, a reasonable cost for software of this type, but enough that you’ll probably want to know a little more about the software before investing in it. Softmath was willing to provide me a full version of the software for review purposes.
Partial view of Algebrator solving for an inverse
What I Like about Algebrator
There’s a lot to like with Algebrator. While it has a lot of capabilities, allowing it to be used as a scientific calculator, graphing calculator, CAS calculator and more, there were two areas that I think most students will use it for.
The first is the ability to input problems and see them solved step by step. When you input a problem into Algebrator, it will use it’s CAS calculator to work the problem out, step by step. Trust me when I say, they are worked out in incredible detail. In some cases, there were more steps than I would care to see. However, I am glad that if that given the choice, the developers of Algebrator went with more detail rather than less as students can often be confused by “skipped steps.” Students can also click on any step for an explanation of how the software calculated the step if they are confused.
The other main capability of Algebrator that I would point out are the “Wizards.” The programmers at Softmath have created a list of questions students are likely to encounter in high school math, and created a long list of ready made templates to solve them. Many, but not all of them, involve coordinate geometry. The headings in the Wizard area of the software are:
- Basic Operations with Numbers
- Geometry and Trigonometry
How do Wizards work? As an example, within the Line menu, there are options to find intercepts of a line, the slope between to points, the equations of parallel/perpendicular lines through a point among many, many others. You just provide the relevant points and lines, and Algebrator will show you how to find the solution to the problem. By my quick count, there were nearly 80 Wizards within the sub-menus listed above. In my opinion, these Wizards are the strongest selling point of the software.
What Algebrator Is Not
Algebrator is true to its Algebra name. If you’re looking for a product with Calculus abilities, this isn’t it. On the other hand, there are quite a few functions of the software that could be classified as Pre-Calculus. Algebrator has the ability to work with matrices, logs, and trig functions, although I did find its trig abilities to be a bit limited (it handles numbers well enough but won’t simplify trig identities). I also really like some of the “Wizards” that were available to solve for conic sections as a Pre-Calculus tool.
I would highly recommend this software primarily for Pre-Algebra, Algebra I, and Algebra II students. There are also some pretty cool features that would make it appeal to Pre-Calculus students. The right kind of Pre-Calculus student could actually get quite a bit of mileage out of it. I wouldn’t recommend it beyond Pre-Calculus, though.
Bottom Line Algebrator Review
If all you’re looking for is a way for your child to check their answers, Wolfram Alpha still can’t be beat. It’s free and can do a lot of really high level stuff that Algebrator can’t. However, don’t expect it to do all the Wizards of Algebrator can. It’s capable of some of them, but certainly not all.
Additionally, for a very reasonable cost, Algebrator is far more than an answer checker. It’s designed to demonstrate how problems can be solved step by step. I haven’t seen many resources that can do that, and the few that do aren’t as polished and easy to use as Algebrator. If you are looking for a way to walk students through answers in simple steps with concise explanations, Algebrator is top notch. I recommend you head over to Softmath.com to check out Algebrator. Additionally, you may want to check out the video I created below demonstrating some of its capabilities.
Disclosure: I was provided with a copy of Algebrator by Softmath in order to test the products’ abilities and give my own personal opinions on it. The opinions I have given are mine and may differ from others but were not influenced by the company or the free product provided.