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5 Steps To Escape From Homework Online

In the field of educational technology, some apps might be getting too smart.

More and more apps are delivering on-demand homework help to students, who can easily re-purpose the learning tools to obtain not just assistance, but also answers. Whether or not that's cheating—and how to stop it—is one of the concerns surrounding a new app that can solve math equations with the snap of a camera. While the software has inspired teachers to create real-world homework problems that can't be automatically solved, that strategy doesn't hold up to other apps that tap into real-life brains for solutions.

Here's a look at 7 apps that can do your homework for you, and what they have to say about cheating:

PhotoMath

Price: Free
Availability: iOS, Android app coming in early 2015

The new, seemingly magic app allows users to take pictures of typed equations, and then outputs a step-by-step solution. As of Wednesday, the app is the number one free app on the App Store. But the biggest issue, one teacher argues, isn't if students will use the app to cheat, because many will. Rather, it's about how teachers will adapt. A PhotoMath spokeswoman said educators have welcomed the app with positive reviews, but the software remains "quite controversial."

"We didn't develop PhotoMath as a cheating tool. We really wanted kids to learn," said Tijana Zganec, a sales and marketing associate at tech company MicroBlink, which created PhotoMath. "If you want to cheat, you will find a way to cheat. But if you want to learn, you can use PhotoMath for that."

iHomework

Whether you’re a high schooler with eight periods of classes or a college student tackling dozens of credits, there’s one thing you’ve got for sure: a mess of assignments. iHomework can help you keep track of all your work, slicing and dicing it in a variety of ways. Sorting it by due date, week, month, or by course, the app is more organized than a Trapper Keeper. And in integrating data from Questia, you can link your reading material to your assignments so you don’t have to dig through a pile of papers to find the right information.

A scheduling feature can help you keep track of those random bi-weekly Thursday labs, and you can even mark the location of your courses on a map so you don’t end up on the wrong side of campus. And finally, with iCloud syncing, you can access all this information on whatever Apple-compatible device you’re using at the moment — no need to dig for your iPad.

Google Apps for Education

Taking the search giant's suite of free browser-based apps and sandboxing them so they are safe for school use, Google Apps for Education is an excellent alternative to the mainstream installable productivity software, but this one has a perk that almost school board will love—it's free. Packaging together favorites like Gmail, Hangouts, Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Drive with Classroom, a digital hub for organizing assignments and sending feedback, the goal of this collection is to make learning a more collaborative process.

Though Google Apps for Education is cloud-hosted, the programs can be used offline, ideal for when your student needs to escape the internet and work distraction-free. And since it works on any device, it also helps students avoid buying overly expensive hardware. That means more money for extracurricular activities.

HwPic

Price: Free, but some homework services require payment
Availability: iOS and Android

HwPic is a tutoring service that allows students to take send pictures of their homework to tutors, who will then respond within minutes to your questions with a step-by-step solution. There's even an option to expedite the answers if a student is in a hurry. HwPic Co-Founder Tiklat Issa said that the app was initially rejected by Apple's App Store, which believed it would promote cheating, but he successfully argued that just because someone uses the app in a way that it's not meant to be used doesn't mean the app should be punished.

Issa added that HwPic prohibits cheating in its terms and conditions. Tutors don't solve homework that has words like "Quiz" or "Exam," and they often know if a student is sending a photo during a test if they've paid for expedited answers, and if the photo is dim, blurry and taken under a desk. "We've minimized cheating," said Issa. "We haven't eliminated it. That's kind of unrealistic."

Wolfram Alpha

Price: $2.99
Availability: iOS and Android

Wolfram Alpha is similar to PhotoMath, only that it targets older students studying high levels of math and doesn't support photos. The service also outputs step-by-step solutions to topics as advanced as vector calculus and differential equations, making it a popular tool for college students.

"It's cheating not doing computer-based math, because we're cheating students out of real conceptual understanding and an ability to drive much further forward in the math they can do, to cover much more conceptual ground. And in turn, that's cheating our economies," said Conrad Wolfram, Wolfram Research’s Director of Strategic Development, in a TEDx Talk. "People talk about the knowledge economy. I think we're moving forward to what we're calling the computational knowledge economy."

Homework Helper

Price: Free
Availability: iOS and Android

Chinese Internet search company Baidu launched an app called Homework Helper this year with which students can crowdsource help or answers to homework. Users post a picture or type their homework questions onto online forums, and those who answer the questions can win e-coins that can be used to buy electronics like iPhones and laptops.

The app has logged 5 million downloads, much to the dismay of many some parents who argue that the students spend less time thinking about challenging problems. A Homework Helper staffer admitted to Quartz, "I think this is a kind of cheating."

Slader

Price: Free, but some homework services require payment
Availability:
iOS

Slader is a crowdsourcing app for high school and college students to post and answer questions in math and science. While students can post original homework for help, many questions in popular textbooks have already been answered on the app, according to Fast Company. An Illinois high school said earlier this year that it suspected students were using the service to cheat on their math homework.

Slader argues that it's "challenging traditional ideas about math and education," and said that the ideas behind its app "aren't a write-off to teachers," according to its blog. Slader told San Francisco media outlet KQED that it shouldn't be dismissed as a cheating tool, but rather considered a way for students to access real-time help.

What is it about homework that wears families out? Even newbie grade-schoolers, who love doing it at first, often lose their enthusiasm and start stalling. And after a long day, you just want your kiddo to knuckle down so you can get dinner on the table or start the bedtime routine. 

But playing cop rarely works — micromanaging and nagging only make kids feel stupid or frustrated. A better solution: Think of yourself as a coach and cheerleader. To help you get there, we asked teachers and parents to share their A+ strategies for solving the most common headaches. Their work-like-magic tips are guaranteed to bring harmony back into your homework routine, whether your child is a kindergartner or a fifth-grader, a whiner or a procrastinator!
1. Do It as Early as Possible: Best for Everyone
On days when there are no afternoon activities, give your child a time frame — say, between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. — to get down to business. This gives her some control over her schedule (some kids need a longer break after school, and others need to start right away to keep the momentum going). The only rule is that 5 o’clock is the latest time to start. If you work, that means homework duties will fall to the after-school caregiver. This way, the bulk of it can get done before your kiddo’s too pooped — and you can just review and wrap things up once you get home.
2. Create a Call List: Best for Forgetters
From kindergarten on, kids need a list of three or four classmates they can call on when they forget an assignment, says Ann Dolin, M.Ed., a former teacher and author of Homework Made Simple. The study buddy can read your child the spelling words over the phone, or his mom can snap a pic of the worksheet and text it to you.
3. Build Confidence: Best for the Intimidated
When kids don’t get something right away, they may feel like they’re stupid and start to shut down, says Sigrid Grace, a second-grade teacher in Almont, MI, and a member of Scholastic Parent & Child’s advisory board. You can short-circuit negative thinking by sitting down and figuring out the first problem together. That alone can help him remember how to do the rest. Then heap on the praise: “You did a great job on that one! Try the next one now.” 
Another strategy: Have your child show you similar problems he worked on in class. That may jog his memory so he can retrace the steps. Plus, it helps you see what he’s already learned.
4. Cut It in Half: Best for the Overwhelmed
That’s right — you can make an executive decision to lighten your child’s load for a night, if:
  • She doesn’t understand the assignment.
  • The assignment is vague or touches on a topic she’s not ready for.
  • She’s exhausted from a long day of school, gymnastics, and an argument with her best friend. 
If your child is completely lost, you can excuse her entirely. In the other cases, shorten the assignment, says Cathy Vatterott, Ph.D., a University of Missouri-St. Louis professor of education and author of Rethinking Homework. What you can’t skip is informing the teacher. “Have your child write a note explaining,” says Vatterott. If she’s too young, write it yourself (with her input) and have her sign it. If you don’t hear back from the teacher in a few days, or your child is still clueless on the next assignment, follow up with an e-mail.
Most teachers will be understanding if a student does this once in a while, says Grace, but if your child frequently fails to finish her assignments, there will probably be a consequence.
5. Change the Scene: Best for Daydreamers
Something as simple as a special place to work can boost a child’s motivation and, in turn, his confidence. “I let one kid at a time use my office if they are having trouble,” says Jennifer Harrison, of Sacramento, CA, mom of a 7- and an 11-year-old. “Being in the spot where Mom does grown-up work seems to help them focus. Maybe because I tell them that it’s my place to concentrate.”
6. Keep the Positive Feedback Coming: Best for the K–2 Set
Little kids need instant feedback, so it’s okay for parents of young grade-schoolers to correct mistakes, says Grace. Then emphasize what your kid’s done well. After he’s finished, take his paper and say “Hmm, I’m looking for something . . .” After scanning it for a minute, say “Aha! Look how well you wrote your letters in this part!” or “This sentence is even better than the one you came up with yesterday!” If you praise specific improvements, your little learner will become more inclined to try to do a good job the first time around.
7. Leave the Room: Best for Whiners
“Kids who drag things out are often doing so for your attention — they’re enjoying the interaction on some level,” explains Grace. “Avoid joining in. And if you must stay in the room, have your child work in a spot that’s farther away from whatever you’re doing.”
8. Beat the Clock: Best for Procrastinators
Sometimes a pint-size foot dragger just needs a jump-start. If that’s true for yours, try Dolin’s “Five Minutes of Fury”: Set a timer for five minutes, shout “Go!” and have your child work as fast as she can until the timer goes off. At that point, she can take a short break or keep going — and many kids continue. “Racing against a timer gives kids an external sense of urgency if they don’t have an internal one,” she notes (besides, it’s fun!). But it’s not an excuse for sloppy work, so tell her to go over it before she puts it back in her folder.
9. Plan, Plan, Plan: Best for 3rd- to 5th-Graders
Many teachers will break down big projects into a series of deadlines so that children learn to budget time. If your kid’s teacher doesn’t, show your child how to “scaffold” the assignment yourself, says Dr. Vatterott. Together, divide the project into steps, then help her estimate how much time each will take. Get a weekly or monthly calendar (like Martha Stewart Home Office With Avery Dry Erase Monthly Planner; $8, Staples.com), and then write down which steps she’ll tackle when — and for how long. To get the most out of your calendar, include everything — from basketball practice on Mondays to the reading log every night so you both can plan realistically. If you know which nights are going to be a problem, “Ask for the week’s assignments at once and figure out your own schedule for completing them,” suggests Dr. Vatterott. “Teachers will often work with you on this, but most parents are afraid to ask.”
10. Let ’Em Vent: Best for Everyone
When your routine is upended — and your kid hasn’t even started his homework — ease frustration by letting him complain. Listen, empathize (“Wow, that is a lot of work”), and state his feelings back to him (“You sound upset”). Once your child feels understood, says Dolin, he’ll be more likely to accept your suggestions — and better able to focus on what needs to be done.
Plus: Your Way vs. The Teacher’s
Your child’s tearing up over a long-division worksheet and you actually remember how to get the answer. But the teacher’s instructions are different. Do you show your kid your method — so at least she’ll have the correct answer?
Hold off, says Dr. Vatterott. Your process may confuse her even more. You can help your child by talking to her about what she remembers from class and steering her to the textbook. If she’s still lost, just have her write a note to the teacher explaining that she doesn’t understand.

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