- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 30, 2000

Little Joey stares at a homework assignment filled with befuddling numerical problems. As bedtime approaches and perplexed parents hunch their shoulders at him, where can he go for a quick solution to a sticky quadratic equation?
One man has created a cyber-stop he hopes will relieve some of the pressure difficult math problems produce by not only solving them, but offering an on-line tutorial in the development of the answers.
Depending on teaching methods, one might call this cheating, but learning (and understanding) by example might be a fairer assessment. No matter, little Joey will get a much better night's sleep with his assignment completed and visions of polynomials dancing in his head.


Site address: www.webmath.com


A recent recipient of a doctorate in physics, Tom Bensky created the site as a side business that supports itself through advertising revenue and the on-line sale of math software. This one-man operation is headquartered in Pleasanton, Calif., just outside San Francisco.

Creator quotable:

"We created this site to give students instant help with their math homework. Before this site was started, most math help sites out there were based around a student e-mailing in a question or posting a question to an electronic bulletin board. Those sites typically had a day or two turnaround on getting an answer. We wanted to provide instant, on-the-spot math solutions. And not just the answer, but how to get the answer as well," says Mr. Bensky, president and creator of the site.

Word from the Webwise:

Behind the simplistic mask of plain links and minimal text found at Webmath, an omniscient deity is prepared to tackle even the most complex equations.
To call the site a calculator would be a mistake. A more apt description would be that it's a stimulating tutorial that dares motivated students to explore its contents. Start with the bland front page listing a seemingly infinite compendium of dilemmas. From the parent stuck on figuring out stock gains and losses to the dreamer wondering how much he would weigh on Neptune, Webmath makes numbers fun.
The site offers modules "Math for Everyone," "Personal Finance," "Units Conversion," "Math at Home," "K-8 Math," "General Math," "Algebra," "Geometrical Stuff" and "Trigonometry/Calculus" geared toward a range of educational backgrounds. It presents areas of expertise in everything from wind chills to inequalities to relativity.
Visitors simply pick a topic and click through until they find its primary equation page.
For example, if a student needs to understand how to reduce a fraction, he or she can go to the "General Math" section for a living tutorial. The student types in the numbers of the fraction and through a text-driven page combined with an animated chalkboard, the numerator and denominator are brought down to their lowest possible terms.
Not all the solving techniques use this slick applet/Java animation. Children can type in a large number, click "Pronounce It" and hear it uttered.
Mr. Bensky goes out of his way to educate continually and try not just to give answers. In the daunting "Word Problems" area, students get 80 types of numerical puzzles either to solve or to apply to their homework assignment. These range from money issues to the always aggravating transportation problems.
Just type in numbers to particular stories and get an explanation of how to solve them. Mr. Bensky also clearly explains the biggest challenges involved with tackling word problems and the possible methodologies available.

Ease of use:

Woe to those still using a 15-inch monitor who try to watch the Java-enabled tutorials on the site. At a normal resolution, there is no way to get the multiple pop-up windows to fit on the screen as the solution is explained. Viewers could set their resolution to 800x600, but they may need a microscope to read some of the text. Also, the story-problem module was not working very well. Considering that more than 100 other areas worked to perfection, that is not a bad ratio.
Other than those minor annoyances and the aggravating advertising banners, the site provides a painless jaunt into the world of numbers.
Family activity: Parents can develop quizzes for their children a great way to challenge the entire clan on numbers knowledge. Using a simple form, Mom and Dad can choose from problems involving addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. The scripting is flexible enough to deal with decimals, negatives and even fractions.
Additionally, Webmath has an area for teachers to develop an even more complicated test and have students take the challenge on line. Answers are e-mailed directly to the teacher.

Don't miss:

Visitors wanting a video demonstration on how to multiply fractions need look no further than to Webmath. A Quicktime movie features a set of hands, large piece of paper and a black marker as the narrator explains the procedures to complete the assignment effectively.
The video clip is rather large, so folks still running 28.8k connections will need to find something else to do for about 26 minutes. Other clips include solving a quadratic equation using the quadratic formula, graphing an equation using the Cartesian coordinate system and proving a trigonometric identity.

Cyber-sitter synopsis:

Although the site may be a godsend for those who are mathematically challenged, the question remains: Can junior use its amazing calculators to duck legitimate homework? The wily ones will, but Webmath.com drops a very intricate net over students to capture their attention and in many ways force them to understand problem-solving techniques.
Family fun factor: 90 percent

Information grade: A

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (joseph@twtmail.com).



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