“Mathematical sketching is the ability to take drawings and handwritten mathematics and combine them together to create dynamic illustrations that help to visualize the underlying mathematical concept,” says LaViola. In other words, his program brings mathematical equations to life, allowing students to better understand the concepts behind the math.

Using a special program he designed, LaViola can write out math problems by hand and assign values to the equations. In one example, he draws two cars—one represents the rate of velocity and the other the rate of acceleration. With a flick of his pen, the cars speed ahead, with one reaching its destination first.

“It has the potential to ultimately affect millions of people and augment how math is taught and learned in school,” said LaViola, “but at the moment, the program will only work if the math is written down correctly.”

His next challenge is to program the software to recognize wrong answers and illustrate why they are wrong.

LaViola’s interest in hand-written math applications began in 2003 while working on his Ph.D. at Brown University; he is improving and developing the application with funding from the National Science Foundation, which awarded LaViola a 2009 Early CAREER Award for his research. He and several colleagues are working to commercialize the program and started a software company based in Boston, Massachusetts. He sees the application being commercially available in as little as one to two years.

Currently, testing of the application is being conducted with Calculus I students at UCF and he will extend the tests to Calculus II.

“Teachers have been overwhelmingly positive (of the program),” said LaViola. “Not only is it a tool for teachers to explain math concepts, students also benefit by being able to visualize them, which adds to their understanding. Although the program is currently only being tested at the high school and freshman college level, its reach could easily extend to middle and elementary school students as well,” added La Viola.