While catching up with my blog roll this morning after the weekend, I discovered a lot of buzz about WolframAlpha, a new Web tool that you can use to type in equations and get the answers. If you’re at all interested in data, statistics, or little bits of information, it’s worth spending a few minutes checking out. I highly recommend the screencast of WolframAlpha to get an idea of how it works and what kinds of information is available from it.
Although you can type in mathematical equations and get the results, you can also type in questions about things like the weather, cities, dates, or even Web sites and get information about them. It will also show comparisons of data if you type in two similar items, such as “the population of the U.S.” and “the population of Mexico.”
I’m curious to see whether K-12 educators will be quick to pick up this tool and use it in their classrooms. It seems like there are obvious educational implications—being able to find data quickly and easily and manipulate it to find the specific piece of info that you need is educational in and of itself—although I wonder if, like Wikipedia, it will need to be viewed with a skeptical eye. I did notice, though, that at the end of every query, there’s a link to source information, which could help track down whether the information generated is viable or not.
Has anyone else played around with this at all yet? What implications do you think it might have for your classrooms or schools?
In time, Alpha could become a very useful tool for researching facts, especially odd facts about the relationships among two or more things. Unlike many Web sites, it gives clear sources for its information and these sources are generally authoritative. But I think that other than students and researchers, most people are going to find it too quirky and limited in its score to be of much practical use.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.