Why LaTeX is bad for learning

Writing and displaying equations is hard to do online.


The default tool for writing equations is LaTeX, a decades-old, very powerful, but unintuitive tool.

This is what that equation looks like in LaTeX:

V = \frac{4\pi r^3 }{3}

It’s hard for anyone who hasn’t learned LaTeX to read, write, modify or search for this equation.

But few people take the time to learn LaTeX  —  one reason why the internet is full of unstructured, hard to read math, or math trapped in images and pdfs.

That’s a pity. The internet would be a better place for learning if it had better formatted math, and the only way that is going to happen is if it’s easy and intuitive to create …

## Enter ASCIIMathML

Our goal at Socratic is to make learning easier. An integral step towards making math easy to learn is empowering our community to create, edit and search for beautifully-formatted equations.

We discovered a little-known technology called ASCIIMathML which does exactly that.

ASCIIMathML is a slightly-less powerful but much more intuitive way of writing math. You basically write equations the same way you’d type them into a graphing calculator (remember that TI-83?) or the Google search bar.

For example, instead of writing:

V = \frac{4\pi r^3 }{3}

You write:

V = (4 pi r^3)/3

Once you start playing with it you’ll be surprised how easy it is to write gorgeous-looking equations.

Try it out here: socratic.org/help/math


## Using ASCIIMathML on your site

We encourage all sites that display math content to use ASCIIMathML input. This is especially important on collaborative sites like Socratic where users might want to modify or fork existing content on the site.

Here are the resources you need to add ASCIIMathML to your site:

  • Learn more about ASCIIMath here (Huge kudos to Prof Jipsen for writing ASCIIMath and giving it a reusable license)

To display formatted ASCIIMathML content on your website, you’ll need to include the Mathjax javascript library: mathjax.org

I hope this makes learning easier, 

Why Original Answers Matter

At Socratic, our vision for the future of learning online is that students can type in any question they have and they’ll find a helpful explanation tailored exactly to that question.


In order to make this vision a reality, we believe it’s important that all our answers are original. We define original answers as those that have been custom-created for every question on our site. These kinds of answers create the best experience for students. Why?

Three reasons original answers are best for students

  • Answers that are specific and unique to that question mean the student doesn’t have to hunt around for the information they need
  • Writing in the “Socratic style”, with a summary first and an explanation afterwards, emphasizes learning and puts ease of understanding first
  • Original content helps us, while duplicate content hurts us, in the eyes of search engines like Google. Original content means more people will find Socratic, and more people = more answers to help students learn

What can you do?

Write helpful, original answers that address the question as best you can. Don’t copy-and-paste from other websites. Don’t link to external websites as your primary answer. Don’t reuse another answer you’ve written on Socratic.

If you see any of these things happen, remember that you’re empowered to correct them! Edit answers that don’t meet the “original” criteria and leave a comment to help guide the answerer for next time.

What if you see a question that’s asking the same thing as a question you’ve seen already answered on the site? If you believe that the student asking would benefit most from the answer that already exists, simply mark the question as “duplicate”  and link to the awesomely-answered question in the text box that appears.


What’s next?

You might notice that our team at HQ has been working hard to clean up un-original answers on the site. If someone edits your answer to make it better, don’t worry—join the movement and help us make Socratic the best place to learn on the web!

Socratic Weekly: Precalculus & Calculus have arrived!

Hi All, 

We’ve been quite busy over here at Socratic HQ! Today, we’re thrilled to announce the launch of two new subjects on the site: Precalculus & Calculus! We’re really pushing the limits (if you catch my drift).  

You’ll find theory-based questions on topics like limits and tangent slope as well as practice problems, like:

                                                    (See the answer on Socratic here!)

Writing math equations on a computer can be really hard, so we’ve built a system to make it easier to do. You can play around with it here. We’re excited about the ways it will make learning and teaching math easier.

Click over to Precalculus and Calculus and get your Q&A on!

Hope this makes learning easier,

Biology Q&A is here!

Hi All, Biology—it grows on you! And it’s grown on Socratic, too.

We’re really excited to officially announce that we’ve opened Biology Q&A on the site! Now, anyone can ask and answer questions about topics like osmosis, organelles, enzymes … or anything under the sun—literally. Biology, the study of life and living organisms, is a fascinating scientific discipline that transports us from organisms so small they can’t be seen with the naked eye to topics as vast as the very structure of all life on earth.

I can’t wait to see a flourish of activity over on Socratic Biology in the coming days!

Hope this makes learning easier,

Becca, Community Lead at Socratic.org

P.S. I’ve been really inspired by the beautiful imagery associated with Biology, so we made a Vine to show off some of the stellar answers with images on the sitecheck it out!

Setting Educational Content Free

Image http38mediatumblrcom3c1b2c6e9c5a7de444f14fcd203b9aa1tumblr_miht4wySdd1s5nl47o1_1280gifImage credit: 1ucasvb.tumblr.com

Socratic’s mission is to make learning easier. We believe that it’s easier to learn when teachers have access to great teaching materials, whether they be videos, practice problems, or images.

Unfortunately, most resources on the Internet have restrictive copyrights, and cannot be used in the classroom for free.

We’d like to see more content freely available for educational purposes. To that end, we’ve decided to put all original content on Socratic under a Creative Commons License.

In a nutshell, this means that anyone can use Socratic content however they want as long as they A) don’t use it for commercial purposes and B) link back to the original content on Socratic.

This should be especially useful for educators who want to use Socratic content as part of their lessons, build upon the content to make it their own, or redistribute it on different platforms.

As a company, we strongly believe that teaching and learning will be easier for everyone if there is more educational content freely available.

If you are creating educational content, we urge you to add a similar license to your content. Here are step-by-step instructions on how to add a Creative Commons license to your content on different platforms:
Happy posting,
P.S. A big shoutout to LucasVB who creates fantastic math gifs and puts them out into the public domain. 

Keeping Socratic Spotless

We’ve added a couple of new features to Socratic and we want to know what you think:

First, we’ve added the option to each unanswered question for you to “Close Question” - once clicked, the question will be marked for removal from the site. We created this feature based on your feedback.

If a question is poorly written, but you understand what the student is trying to ask, you still have the option to “Edit Question” and rewrite appropriately. You also still have the option while editing to change the topic to which the question is attributed.

Second, next time you log in, you’ll see a checklist that looks like this. Many of you may already completed your list!


Once you’ve accomplished these four things - you’ll see a completed list:

Will you be closing questions? Is there anything you think we should add to the checklist?

Looking forward to hearing your answers. Just reply to this email!
Becca & Jackie
Community Team

Keeping Busy This Summer

We know many students are almost, if not already, on summer break. This season is a great chance to relax, but it’s also a great time to keep busy and learn something new!

Most local public libraries are an excellent resource for interesting (and typically free) summer programs and exhibits for students of all ages. Just as an example, the Toronto Public Library offers free programs and exhibits that you can filter by age and topic of interest. Check them out here.

Try searching Google for your own city’s programs! Typically, if you search “[City name] public library programs,” you’ll be quickly directed to relevant information.

Hope this makes learning easier,
Becca & Jackie
Community Team at Socratic

Welcome, Becca!

Hey everyone!

I have some exciting news that I want to share: Becca McArthur is joining our Community team! We’ve spent a lot of time getting to know her over the last few weeks, and we’re convinced she’s a great fit for the Socratic community.

I sat down and did a Q&A session with her so everyone can get to know her a little bit. Enjoy!

Becca Video

Q: What is your background?
I grew up in Denver, Colorado and moved to New York to study creative writing in college. Now, I live in New York City, where I’ve been hard at work helping nourish and motivate online communities for the past few years.

Q: Why are you excited about Socratic?
Socratic believes that when people are empowered to learn, they do great things. I still remember the way I felt when I aced a college-level Calculus course (while I’m a natural wordsmith, solving math problems always felt like searching for something with my eyes closed). I felt invincible. My Calculus teacher helped me achieve something that had always felt impossible—and that feeling of unbridled possibility I got from learning has stuck with me ever since. I believe Socratic has the power to bring that same sense of possibility to students all over the world, and I want to help.

Q: When you’re not community-building, what else do you enjoy?
Eating things I’ve never tried before, playing games (or inventing new ones), and doing yoga. I’m always game for a camping, hiking or biking adventure and I make a lovely blueberry muffin.

Q: Tell us something unexpected about you.
I once worked as a “stunt” at a Mexican restaurant called Casa Bonita. Dressed as a princess, cowboy, or gorilla trainer, I’d theatrically hurl myself off a 15-foot “cliff” into a pool 4 times every hour as entertainment for the restaurant’s guests. The insatiably curious can check out my “stunt” work here

Q: Anything you’d like to say to the Community?
I’m incredibly excited to meet all of you and be your resource and advocate as Socratic continues to grow. Our goal is to help make learning easier, and I’m here to make sure your voices are heard as we work toward that mission. So reach out and say “hey” — let me know why you’re here and how I can help you get involved. You can email me at becca@socratic.org or find me on Twitter @becca_mcarthur. Check out my video introduction (and record your own to send me if you’re so inspired)!

Have a great weekend,

No one too young to succeed!

Last week, students all over the U.S. presented at the 4th annual White House Science Fair - some as young as 6 years old!

I thought this quote from U.S. President Obama was pretty awesome:

“As a society, we have to celebrate outstanding work by young people in science at least as much as we do Super Bowl winners”

I agree! Check out the exhibitors here. Which one did you find the most interesting? Reply to this email and let me know!

Have a great week,
Community Lead at Socratic

What an impact!

A few of you have mentioned that your main motive for answering students’ question on Socratic is the impact you are likely to have on students. To date, we’ve shared a few stats with you (e.g., thanks, karma points), but we’ve recently beefed up contributor profile pages so you can really get a feel for your impact on students around the world!

Here’s what’s new:
  • Impact map - where and how many students you’ve helped in each location. If you hover over a white dot, you’ll see exactly how many students you’ve helped there. This dot is proportional to the number of students who have seen your answer.
  • Recent collaborators - other Socratic contributors you’ve recently worked with on an answer
  • Activity - any recent activity related to answering or updating answers
  • Contributions - a day-by-day breakdown of your contributions on Socratic. The more you contributed per day, the darker the shade of green. If you hover over a green dot, you’ll see how many answers you wrote or edited on that day.
Take a peek at your profile page (make sure you’re logged in) and let me know what you think! Just reply to this email with any feedback.
Hope this makes teaching easier,
Community Lead at Socratic