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?


Information Literacy…Authentic Conversation..Globalize Curriculum…

In my last post, I mentioned that I was concerned about the ease with which any person can access your personal online content, even though they were not specifically invited to do so.  I’ve spent the last month observing how much I actually depend upon and need access to my educational contacts on Twitter, websites like Classroom 2.0, and blogs.  This morning, I was endowed with a Google Wave invite, and suddenly, I am back in the saddle and can’t wait to use this technology piece to engage in information literacy, authentic conversation, and hopefully, globalized curriculum.  I owe this to Eric Snyder and Silvia Tolisano –  Eric for the Google Wave, and Silvia, who posts such wonderful educaitonal commentary in her “Langwitches” blog. 

Here is an excerpt from Silvia’s 6th grade social studies project, “Jewish Communities Around the World”.

In the 21st century, we need to be looking for and addressing something more…

Information Literacy:

  • Online sites and books are still valid information sources, but are they enough to engage students and give them “authentic” sources?
  • Being able to get, evaluate and work with information from a variety of sources, such as books, almanacs, blogs, wikis, video, audio, interviews, etc.

Networking Literacy:

  • Learn about accessing a network of people who can contribute information from their own experiences, on location and customized (personalized) to our own criteria, not the one a publisher or author chose?

Communication skills:

  • being able to interview through a variety of media and communication methods and be familiar with their distinct etiquette.
    • face to face
    • e-mail
    • twitter
    • facebook
    • video conferencing (Skype)
    • texting
    • telephone
  • being able to present the information obtained through a variety a media (video, images, audio)

These bullets are valid content for 21st century learning skills.  I am reconciled that in order for me as a technogy teacher to be able to adequately teach, then I must be a utilizer of these tools.  The artistry with which I use them will demand some discipline, but I know I can make an impact on helping my students become more literate and socially aware of authentic learning.

Web 2.0 Footprint

I was having a good time and feeling good about myself using Web 2.0 tools, until one day I Googled my user name on Twitter and found that everything I had been writing to specific people, groups, or tech forums was online for the world to read.  I then began the painstaking process of deleting my Twitter, LinkedIn, (and other) sites, just so that when someone did a Search, they would not have the free ride of reading my comments.

Kristen Plemon writes the following on “The Educators Royal Treatment”: 

We are in the age of the “wild Web” where anyone can easily publish content online for the masses. Students not only need to know how to protect themselves online from predators and scams, they must learn how to be good digital citizens and evaluate online sources to detect fact from fiction.

While an Internet filter is important, it shouldn’t be the only line of defense. You can teach students how to search for appropriate information, sort through the clutter, and make wise online decisions. Your guidance will ensure that they not only use their Web time more efficiently, but that they are less likely to stumble upon something that’s not meant for their eyes.

Students need to know that they are creating a digital footprint with everything they do on the Web, and that they may be judged by the content they create. Teach them to use the Web as a toolbox that contains tools that can help them further their goals and achieve success when mixed with effective communication skills. These tools, like any other, require practice to use well. The more practice, the more comfortable your students will become using these high‐tech tools.

A new eBook by netTrekker offers 10 tips for educators on teaching students how to protect themselves in today’s digital age (“10 Tips to Keep Students Safe in a Web 2.0 World”):

  1. Become familiar with potential Web 2.0 risks.
  2. Recognize that Web 2.0 is just a set of tools.
  3. Look at Web 2.0 as an extension of reality.
  4. Discuss which information to share, with whom and where.
  5. Help your students protect themselves with knowledge.
  6. Remind students that information posted online is archived.
  7. Encourage parents to monitor Web 2.0 use at home, including cell phones.
  8. Remind students that Web 2.0 isn’t all about them.
  9. Teach your students cyber ethics.
  10. Speak up and share what you know.

By monitoring the use of Web 2.0 tools, teaching by example and, when appropriate, controlling access, you will be better able to help your students succeed in the Web 2.0 world.

Generating online content and conversing via social media outlets are skills that are not only in high demand, they are becoming social norms. By educating students on both the benefits and risks of using the Web 2.0 tools, you are helping your students stay safe while honing skills that could impact their future level of success.

Where to Find Keyboarding Lesson Plans and Tutorials

Finding online lesson plans and tutorials for keyboarding is a great way for teachers to save time and engage students in the classroom. Here are a few resources that can be used to teach beginner and advanced keyboarders finger placement, speed, and accuracy:

Teachers.net – The Teachers.net site provides 36 keyboarding lesson plans for students of all ages. The lesson plans range from beginner to advanced.

Learn Keyboard Typing – Learn Keyboard Typing offers step-by-step instruction to help students increase keyboarding skills. This four-lesson tutorial provides demos, tips on finger placement, and a practice area.

Keyboarding & Applications – This instructional site from Tayna Skinner’s Business Education Lesson Plans features lesson plans and activities, keyboarding educational links, and typing tutors for students of all ages.

TestMyTyping.com – TestMyTyping.com offers a fun and easy typing tutorial for improving typing speed. The tutorial features 10 lessons which can be used by beginner and advanced typists.

MrKent’s Typing Tutor – MrKent’s Typing Tutor is an interactive tutorial for learning the placement of keys without having to actually look at the keys. The tutorial features 14 learning lessons in all.

Education World – This open source lesson plan site features a Primary Keyboarding Skills section for grades K-2. The lessons in this section introduce younger students to the home row of keys by using phrases that correlate to the letters on the keys.

Utah Education Network – The Utah Education Network offers keyboarding lesson plans designed for grades 6-9. The lesson plans can be used to improve accuracy, speed, and finger placement.

Glencoe’s Online Keyboarding – This online interactive keyboarding tutorial features 16 keyboarding lessons as well as tips for improving finger placement.

Nail It Now – Nail It Now provides a fun, four-lesson tutorial for elementary school children. The objective is for children to learn and understand key positions as well as finger placement.

Typing Games and Lessons – This keyboarding site provides free online tutorials and lessons for improving typing skills and speed.

Typing Tutor – Typing Tutor is a Java typing tutor/game that can be used to practice keyboarding skills.

MoneyInstructor.com – MoneyInstuctor.com provides lessons, typing worksheets, exercises, and finger charts for keyboarding students and teachers.

TeAchnology – This online teaching resource provides several lesson plans designed to improve keyboarding skills. Teachers can also find rubrics and worksheets for beginner to advanced keyboarders.

Lesson Plans – This keyboarding lesson plan from Lesson Plans improves speed and accuracy through group drills. This is a fun way for 5th through 12th graders to improve typing skills.

Computer Training Tutorials – The Computer Training Tutorials site offers an interactive tutorial for beginning keyboarders. This tutorial gives explanations of the keys and provides a practice area to test skills.

Guest post from education writer Karen Schweitzer. Karen is the About.com Guide to Business School. She also writes for OnlineCollege.org, an online college resource.