Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Visit with Wolfram Alpha

WolframAlpha The other day I had a wonderful phone conversation with Mike Looney (VP Vertical Markets) of WolframAlpha. Here is the bio that I was given before the phone call:

“Michael Looney started his career in education as an inner city school teacher for the National Teacher Corps in Portland, Oregon in 1969.  After earning degrees in Psychology, Organizational Behavior and Non-Profit Marketing and working in a variety of public sector roles for schools and universities, Michael joined Apple Computer as their first education account manager in Upstate New York.  This ultimately led to a 27 year career in high tech education sales, marketing and general management.  He led and grew the education businesses for Apple, Claris, and Adobe as well as much smaller Silicon Valley start-ups.  His achievements have been measured both in profitability for these companies as well as value-added curriculum and tools for students and teachers alike.

His primary focus is on the integration of the Wolfram|Alpha fact engine into education settings, and the application of computational interactivity through mobile apps, websites, eTexts, and eCurriculum.”

I was really excited our phone conversation and Mike showed me a lot of neat ways to use this tool that I want to share with you. He was able to show me many of examples that would be valuable to students.

You can see examples by topic at

When Mike put my name in, it showed that Patricia ranked 541 and that 552 people per year are named Patricia.

On the side of the examples page are things that you can try which I did and enjoyed seeing the results. You can enter a date, a city, a math calculation or a formula and see the results. What a great reference tool this can be for our students!

Mike also put “International Space Station” in and the results showed the orbit of the space station.

I really liked the math topics. He showed me how in Calculus, it shows the steps of how a problem was solved. This could help so many people who are trying to figure out the solution but don’t know how to arrive at the answer. Last year I had a friend whose daughter had trouble with a math problem and so I contacted a math teacher/friend who wrote out the solution for me so that I could pass this on to the daughter. Obviously that took a lot of time which the daughter really didn’t have. This would have been a great tool for her to use. If you have time, go to the Example by Topics page, Click on Calculus under the Math topic. Choose one of the examples under “Integrals” by clicking on the “equal” sign. Then in the right hand corner in red, click on “Show Steps” and see how this problem was solved. I think this would be a great self check tool for understanding. Students could find out what step was causing them the problem. Whether you teach in the classroom or home school your own children, this tool could be very useful to all students. Eventually they hope to do this same process with algebra. I can’t wait until that occurs.

You can also add this to your Iphone, Ipad, and Ipod Touch.

There is also an educator’s page: There are lots of suggestions on ways to use this in the classroom and Math, Science and Social Studies lesson plans for educators to use. You can use it for creative writing, geography, and algebra too.

Last night I couldn’t wait to share this information with my friends. I even asked Mike if I could share all this in my blog. I hope you take time to check out this free and wonderful tool. Even though it is educational, it is a lot of fun too.

Posted on the Successful Teaching Blog by loonyhiker (successfulteaching at gmail dot com).

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