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MathTrax Frequently Asked Questions

What is MathTrax?

MathTrax is an educational technology tool that demonstrates the combined capabilities of the MDE library modules. Its primary audience is middle and high school students studying algebra, pre-calculus and calculus and in particular it serves blind and vision impaired (BVI) math students. MathTrax fulfills a compelling educational need to demonstrate the relationship between math and real world science applications by translating and demonstrating math relationships in a tangible physical medium on a standard PC platform.

Students can create graphs by entering an equation, selecting an equation from a drop-down menu, entering raw data to be analyzed or activating a physics simulation. MathTrax graphs the equations and provides descriptions of those graphs using text and sound. The curves currently described are first and second order equations in two variables, i.e., line, parabola, ellipse, hyperbola, circle, null set, single point, and two lines. The dynamic text descriptions and sonification make the graphs accessible to blind students who do not use pencil, paper or written graphs to study mathematics. The text descriptions can be read by Java-capable screen readers such as Jaws for Windows, or can be input to speech synthesizing software to create self-voicing applications. MathTrax provides color and line settings for traditional "drawn" graphs to aid users with differing vision-impairments.

What is the Math Description Engine?

The Math Description Engine (MDE) is a library of interactive software modules that combines mathematical analysis, graphing and sonification to represent math and science information. The purpose of the MDE is to dynamically generate accessible text descriptions of graphs to make data traditionally conveyed in visual graphs available to blind and visually-impaired (BVI) users. The MDE modules use rule and computation based AI to synthesize text descriptions for graphs of mathematical equations, tables of data, and simulations. The sonification engine then renders the resulting planar curve(s) as a mixture of stereo tones.

What does MathTrax cost?

MathTrax is free of charge and available at /MathTrax

Where can I get MathTrax?

You can download MathTrax from /MathTrax. The development team is investigating other ways to make the software available.

Can I run MathTrax on my computer without an Internet connection?

MathTrax is a stand-alone application so technically you can run it without an Internet connection. HOWEVER, at this time you do need an Internet connection to download the software. You also need an Internet connection to view the MathTrax website: /MathTrax. The MathTrax team is investigating other ways to make the software available.

Is it self-voicing?

No, however text descriptions generated by MDE can be read by screen readers such as Jaws for Windows, or can be input to speech synthesizing software to create self-voicing applications.

Are there tutorials or training?

Yes, there are tutorials available at the MathTrax website: /MathTrax under the INFO tab.

Why did NASA develop this?

MathTrax is part of NASA’s Learning Technologies program whose charter is to develop advanced educational technology. MathTrax furthers NASA’s mission to inspire the next generation of explorers by making students capable and competent in the areas of math and science as it correlates to the work NASA performs.

What is sonification?

Sonification is the use of nonspeech audio to convey information. Sonification uses audible tones to represent graphed data.

Is it usable without a screen-reader?

Yes, you can use MathTrax without a screen-reader.

How do I install it?

Go to /MathTrax and select “Download It” from the top menu bar. This will take you to the download page. Select “Download MathTrax” to begin the download and software installation. The MathTrax Installer provides MathTrax and everything necessary to run it, including the Java Access Bridge used by screen readers. MathTrax runs in its own Java Runtime Environment (JRE) which is separate from any other Java installation you might have on your machine so MathTrax works without making any changes to your existing computer setup.

All graphical Java applications which are to work with assistive technology require the Java Access Bridge (see The JRE installed with the MathTrax application has the Java Access Bridge built into it, so you don't need to perform any additional installations. If you already have the Java Access Bridge, installing MathTrax does not affect your existing installation.

What format do I use to enter an equation?

Equations can be entered in LEFT EXPRESSION = RIGHT EXPRESSION form, for example, the equation of the line y = 3x + 5 could be entered in multiple ways;

y = 3x + 5,

y - 3x = 5, and

3x = y - 5

are all valid entries to MDE.

The letters a-h, k and m are reserved for equation parameters (upper or lower case). The other letters of the alphabet may be used to represent variables. Equations can also be entered in terms of r and theta and they will be recognized as a polar form.

Can I graph more than one equation at a time?

MDE can describe, graph and sonify multiple equations at once, e.g., it can graph two equations on the same grid, sonify both and describe both. To enter more than one equation at a time separate the equations with a semicolon as in this example:

y=cosx; y=3*cosx; y=4*cosx

Are there settings to help low-vision users?

MathTrax includes the ability to easily change settings under the “Settings” tab. Options include: graph line thickness, line color, axis color, gridline color, background color, data point color, show/hide data points, show/hide sonification trace and auto-scale (auto-scaling is currently always on for polar equation graphs (inputs in r and theta).

The ability to change color settings, line thickness, etc are important to enable end-user-control over the display. It allows users with low-vision, color-blindness, or other vision problems to use graph settings that work for them.

Is MathTrax always right?

No.  Algebra is kind of a tough subject for a computer program.  In part, this is because it is possible to write the same, or almost the same equation in several different ways.  MathTrax tries to get around this problem by reducing your equation to a standard or canonical form, but sometimes this standardization process gets us in trouble.  For example, the equations
Y = (x^2-x)/(x-1) and y*(x-1) = x^2 - x
Should not have the same graph (why?); however, MathTrax reduces them to the same form, and thus gives you the same description, even though this is technically an error.  If you find other situations when you feel that MathTrax missed the boat, try to send us the equation and we'll add it to our list of fixes.

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+ NASA Official: Robert Shelton
+ Last Update: April 8, 2005
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