Free, Web-Based Tools Versus Goliath

| June 21, 2011 | 5 Comments
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Educational technology has a reputation — deserved or not — for being years behind the rest of consumer tech. There are a number of reasons why this might be: entrenched interests at both the school and corporate level, for example, or fears on the part of many teachers and startups to challenge some of these big players. But things are changing, and we’re seeing innovation in a number of areas, including a new company to add to the list of Davids versus Goliath: Desmos.

The Goliath in this case would be the Graphing Calculator, a piece of hardware that, for the last 20 years, has been synonymous with one company: Texas Instruments. A required purchase for many high school students, a graphing calculator will set you back around $100, depending on the models and the features.

A product that could free students and teachers from a specific piece of hardware.

Enter Desmos, a startup out of Connecticut, that has built a graphing calculator alternative that may shake up the industry on two key fronts: it’s Web-based, and it’s free.

The tool lets you plot and trace equations, and you can display multiple equations on the same graph. A menu on the sidebar makes it easy to add mathematical expressions and symbols quickly. The calculator supports the following functions: log, log2, ln, exp, sin, cos, tan, sec, csc, cot, acos, asin, atan, sinh, cosh, tanh, min, max, ceiling, and floor. There’s a zoom feature, as well as the ability to share a link to your graph.

The one drawback to Desmos’s app is that it uses Flash, which means it doesn’t work on the iPad or iPhone. The company says it’s working on an alternative (and suggests that, in the mean time, you let Steve Jobs know how you feel about the lack of support for Flash on iOS).

As amazing a potential that lies in this free, Web-based graphing calculator, it isn’t actually the main product that Desmos is building — although it’s one that fits right in with the start-up’s mission: build software that make hardware lock-on obsolete in education.

The company’s core product is actually a virtual whiteboard which will allow anyone to build browser-based content that will work on a multitude of interactive whiteboards, laptops, and tablets. As with the free graphing calculator, this product could mean that students and teachers aren’t stuck with content attached to one specific piece of hardware.

The team had initially built a number of math tools in order to help make these interactive whiteboard lessons “work” — particularly for math and science, and one of the results is the Web-based calculator. Give it a whirl, and be sure to send the startup feedback.

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  • http://www.enterthegroup.com Sal Pellettieri

    Interesting product, I hope it takes off. Audrey what factors come into play when you decide which start-ups to discuss? I would love a chance for your readers to learn about http://Enterthegroup.com, a FREE web based product for project based learning and virtual classrooms.

  • Brian Miller

    Thanks for this review. I’m eager to see Desmos’ whiteboard product. Meanwhile, there are already several graphing calculator apps for iOS devices, and I’m sure for Android as well. These are free or inexpensive. For example, http://www.appcylon.com/ has a graphing calculator for iPhone. So while Desmos is doing good stuff here, I don’t see this so much shaking up the industry as following a trend already well underway.

    • http://www.desmos.com Eli

      Brian:

      I’m a huge fan of AppCylon and thrilled that a lot of smart people are attacking the problem of getting great math (and general education) tools into the hands of teachers and students. 
      That said, a TI is still required equipment for almost every highschool student, with minimal improvement in performance or cost in 20 years. We think that to unseat them, browser-based software or apps will have to catch up in reliability, ease of use, and convenience, while crushing TI-83s in aesthetics, speed, and functionality. I’d love your thoughts on how we did– this is just the first draft of many. I think you’ll like it.

      – Eli

      p.s. drop us a line (info[at]desmos[dot]com) if you’d like a beta invite to test out the full software.

  • http://www.pvwizard.com/ Steve C. Yang, P.E.

    We are a Silicon Valley startup, recently focused in tools for K-12 educators.

    We’ve developed prototypes of our Personal Education Platform, powered by the Raspberry Pi, for conducting experiments in science. It will be ultra low-cost, (no display, no knobs, ~$150, palm-sized), yet powerful, due to its web connectivity and its brain (Arm11 running Linux). The PEP enables experiments like measuring speed of sound, sonar, and soon into Optical Explorer that will allow measuring distance to the Moon experiment. Your Own Devices’ browser is your user interface. See WattminderInstruments.com

    Our vision is to enable anytime anywhere hands-on STEM learning for everyone, especially those disadvantaged areas.

    We are seeking collaborators and support to build up our lesson plans, as well to build our Instructional Engine in the cloud that leverages learning principles, knowledgebases like MOOC, to compile on-the-fly & deliver lesson material customized to the learner at-hand.

    If this sounds interesting to you, we invite you to get acquainted and to explore opportunities for collaboration, co-founder, investor, etc.

  • Raj

    Hi,
    I learn more information in this blog. Thanks for your useful publishing and i read another same blog online graphing calculator