Wolfram Alpha for Educators

*Credit is given to TCEA TechNotes June 15, 2010

Wolfram|Alpha is a relatively new addition to the expanding list of Internet search strategies. Its developers call it “a computational knowledge engine.” It is designed to not just look up answers like other search tools, but to calculate answers based on questions asked it, using an ever-growing collection of data. Currently, it contains 10+ trillion pieces of data and 50,000+ types of algorithms and models.

Some Wolfram|Alpha Basics to Try:

  • Enter any date (like June 15, 1800). You’ll get time from today, major holidays observed, historic events on that day, daylight information and the phase of the moon for that date.
  • Enter any city (like New York). You’ll get population information, location and coordinates on a map, a local map, current local time and weather, economic indicators (such as cost of living index, median home price range, unemployment rate, and total sales tax rate), other indicators (such as violent crime rate, property crime rate, and average daily traffic delay), geographic properties, nearby cities and counties, and nicknames.
  • Enter any two stocks (like IBM Apple). You’ll get the latest trades and tons more financial information and graphs.
  • Enter any calculation (like $250 + 15%). You’ll get the answer and steps in how it was arrived at.
  • Enter any math formula. You’ll get the formula graphed, solved, and with accompanying information.

Other Interesting Features:

  • Enter any two names (like Andrew, Barbara) and receive estimates on births with those names and current population graphs.
  • Enter any food (like 1 apple + 2 oranges) and receive complete nutrition facts on both foods individually and together.
  • Enter any measurement (like 45 mph) and receive unit conversions.
  • Enter any chemical formula (like H2SO4) and receive the chemical names, structure diagrams, basic properties, and more.
  • Enter any musical notes (like C Eb G C) and receive music notations, keyboard displays, scale information, and play the notes themselves.

There is an amazing gallery of visual examples with more things to try available here. Try entering “10 nearest stars” and you’ll be blown away by the data that is instantly available to you! You can also see examples by topic here. Widgets for Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, the Mac OS X dock, and more are also available here. And there is a smart phone app as well.

How can you use Wolfram|Alpha in the classroom?

Shouldn’t your students be researching with Wolfram|Alpha?


Teaching Technology to Teachers

Liz B. Davis is the Director of Academic Technology at Belmont Hill School, an independent, all boys, grades 7-12 school outside of Boston, MA.  I enjoy reading her blog,  The Power of Educational Technology.    In a recent post, she gives 10 points on how to teach technology to teachers.  She makes it sound so simple, and yet, I know it works.  Thanks, Liz, for putting this into words.  Here her main points, verbatim. 

1. It isn’t really about the tool it is about how you use it: it’s how to create a meaningful and effective presentation.

2. Differentiate: Provide lots of different avenues for teachers to learn.

3. Don’t be the only teacher: Encourage teachers to work together and coach each other.

4. Ask lots of questions: try to get to the pedagogical goal for the tool.

5. Enlist your PLN: Reach out to your PLN for support and ideas, read blogs, follow folks on Twitter, ask questions, share your frustrations.  [I REALLY TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS ONE!]

6. Remember there is great teaching without technology: respect the expertise of your colleagues.

7. Acknowledge your teachers’ anxiety and expertise: they just haven’t learned how to do it yet.

8. Start with the early adopters: start with the easy folks, the ones who want your help.

9. Observe your colleagues: it will give you some ideas of ways you can support them.

10. Don’t touch the mouse:  when people mouse they learn to do things themselves.