Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wolfram Alpha Webinar

It's Thursday night and I have exactly one hour between putting my son to bed and heading to a neighbor's house to babysit for her as a part of our cul-de-sac's babysitting co-op. During that one hour, I am attending a Wolfram Alpha webinar on using their tool in the classroom. I've learned that it's really a computational tool, and not a search engine. That means that it kind of "thinks" or computes the results rather than just reporting back a list of Web sites where text occurs! For example, if you type in "distance between Texas and Sydney Australia" you will get an actual computed result. I will be encouraging my science teachers to use their tool for their students' research on elements, on space and stars, and nutritional data. It is relevant to any subject, actually. If you type in "current president", Wolfram Alpha recognizes what the word "current" means and then presents information relevant to your country!

Once you have computed the data you need, you can export it as a PDF, email or blog it, post it to social media sites and more. It can even generate QR codes! You can print a QR code on your homework sheet that the students can use with their smartphones later that night. I'm trying to decide if QR codes are anything other than marketing--they could be "the next big thing"--but that's another blog post.

What's a drawback? When I introduce this tool to my math teachers (again--I learned about it two years ago), they are going to say, "It tells them the answer! They will stop doing the work and just copy, rather than thinking." I asked the webinar leader this question and the answer was, "If you share the tool with the caveat that there is still a test coming and if they only copy, rather than using it as a tool to understand, they will not do well." That's a tough sell. But it is true, and another way that we could teach our students to take responsibility for their own learning.

There was a session on widgets that I had to miss because I ran out of time.

They have a section of their site for education where there are various presentation and faculty training tools I plan to use.

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