"If we teach today's students as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow." --John Dewey

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Wolfram|Alpha: The Answer Engine

For a myriad of reasons, I've had an exceptionally busy week.  It's during weeks like this that I come to truly appreciate the time-savers that I sometimes take for granted, and Wolfram|Alpha is just one of those time-savers.

Mouse over the bottom left
corner to reveal options
for saving.
More than a search engine, Wolfram|Alpha bills itself as a "computational knowledge engine," providing answers to your queries, and not just a list of places to search for answers.  What kinds of information can you find at Wolfram|Alpha?  Check out the page of examples and prepare to be impressed (but be sure to start exploring when you have time to spare because you will become engrossed).  If you look at the math examples, you'll find that not only will the site be able to add fractions or factor polynomials, it will outline the steps involved in deriving the answer.  Want to find out what the weather was like on the day you were born?  Or how long president McKinley was in office?  Or the number of flights departing from Chicago's O'Hare Airport today?  Wolfram|Alpha will give you the answers, and usually much more.  The neatly organized, uncluttered results page is easy to navigate, and allows you to save the information as an image or copyable text (mouse-over the lower-left corner of each chart to reveal the options).  If you're so inclined, you can use the buttons on the right side of the page to share your information via email, Facebook, Twitter, or a number of other sites, and even create a widget based on the information you found, to embed in a blog or wiki.

Clicking on the Products link at the top of every page will direct you to some valuable goodies, such as widgets (like the one below) and toolbars.  Click on the link in the lower right corner labeled For Educators and find lesson plans and other resources for your classroom. And finally, consider following @WolframFunFacts on Twitter for your daily dose of mostly useless, but nonetheless interesting, trivia.

Give Wolfram|Alpha a try below.  Type in your birthdate followed by the word weather to see what it was like on the day you were born, and if you find out that it was 80º and humid, like I just did, be sure to give your mom a hug.

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