Today, experts aren’t the only ones who can create very professional documents. “Content creation” tools have become far more accessible to a much broader audience. This is particularly true when it comes to math documents. By using some of these free, and incredibly useful tools, you’ll find it doesn’t take much to put together and publish quality math documents that you can be proud of.
One the most indispensable tools is Grapher, which comes preinstalled on Apple computers. I frequently use this program to create most images of graphs that I include in my posts, but you can also use it to prepare graphs for worksheets or to help solve equations.
When you open Grapher, you must first determine the type of graph you’d like to make, with options that include both 2D and 3D versions, along with standard Cartesian, log, or polar graphs. Then, simply type in the formula you want to graph and Grapher does all the work. Once it’s drawn, if you click on the Inspector button, you can then click on your graph to further customize options, such as setting tick spacing on the axes, or changing the colors of your lines. In addition, there is a + button on the lower left which allows you to add additional equations to your graph. This option may be incredibly useful to show how changes to the basic equation causes the plot to shift or stretch.
Additional features of Grapher allow you to evaluate your curve at a specific point, and to even differentiate or integrate your equation. Alternately, you can use Grapher to plot specific points on a graph, and then interpolate a best fit line. Grapher fits my needs perfectly for creating beautiful images of graphs to include in my writings, and also as an advanced calculator to help me solve complex equations. There are many more features that I have not yet explored (e.g. periodic functions, parametric curves…), so you can see how valuable this free software can be! I can’t recommend it enough.
2. Microsoft Mathematics
A similar program to Grapher that’s designed for PC users is called Microsoft Mathematics. Considering the software is free, the feature set that it contains is extremely powerful and well-designed. It provides the same graphing and equation solving functionality found in expensive graphing calculators, plus additional features such as a triangle solver and unit converter. The basic software, with its comprehensive math components (e.g. trigonometry, statistics, calculus, algebra, etc.), targets students and helps them solve math problems. However, Microsoft offer an extra Mathematics Add-In for Word and OneNote, which may help educators embed graphs and equations into other documents, such as exams or worksheets. Considering that it’s free and made by Microsoft, you don’t have many reasons to not try it to see if it’s suitable for you.
LaTeX (pronounced “lay-tech”) document markup language is more universal, and should be able to apply to any computer system. With it, you can create consistent, sharp math formulas that look like something you would see printed in a textbook. When you first start using LaTex, you may find it is slightly more complicated than simply typing out a document, but once you get going, you’ll find that it’s fairly self-explanatory and it comes highly recommended.
When you bring up the Online LaTeX Equation Editor, you will immediately see a large white box where you will add in the specifics of the equation you wish to produce. Below, updated in real-time as a properly formatted equation, you’ll see the final result. The gray buttons near the top are the functions you can use to build more advanced equations, although you can simply type the components of simple ones. For example, to generate a nicely formatted basic equation, you could just type in f(x)=2x^3. This will produce a consistently-formatted image representation of your equation, which you can copy and paste into your document. The downside to this method is that if you wish to make changes to your equation, you need to go back to the input rather than directly modifying your image inside your document.
While a general type of tool, rather than a specific tool, cloud-based apps allow you to work on your documents wherever you happen to be. If you have a Google account, then you can take advantage of Google Drive. Similar to the Microsoft Office suite of software, Google’s version is all online, and much more basic. Similarly, Apple users can take advantage of the new iWork for iCloud apps, which includes Pages, Numbers, and Keynote to prepare their drafts. I like this option, because it syncs with my iPhone easily and allows me to make changes on the go.
When it comes to generating material for my math blog, these useful tools mentioned above are some of my go-to resources. They don’t cost anything and they help make my site that much more attractive and professional. Give them a try, and see what they can do to help with your math documents. If you use them, I’d love to see the results! Leave me a comment or email me at (thenumerist101 at gmail dot com). Also, be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter, @TheNumerist. And if you have some incredibly useful math tools of your own, be sure to share them in the comments below.
Shaun Klassen has been writing online about math concepts for several years. His newest website project is The Numerist, where he includes a wide variety of quality tutorial pages that help explain mathematical concepts to students, or provide ideas for teachers to apply to their math lessons.