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Review by Patricia Monticello Kievlan, Common Sense Education | Updated April 2015

Wolfram US Presidents Reference App

Cool tool explores presidential facts; watch out for misinformation

Subjects & skills
Skills
  • Critical Thinking

Subjects
  • Social Studies
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
4-12
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (0)
Not yet reviewed

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Pros: Comparison feature offers neat head-to-head looks at presidential milestones and achievements.

Cons: Uneven, occasionally unreliable information may give users pause.

Bottom Line: A good quick reference tool, but look elsewhere for greater detail and insight.

Find a way to use that graph of Wikipedia page views. Why might a president's page get more visitors? How and why might that vary over a period of days or years? Have kids place different presidents head to head in the comparison tool. Talk about which presidents are interesting to compare and how that helps deepen our understanding of different historical periods and events. Finally, talk about how the Wolfram search engine works, and use this as a jumping-off point for discussing citation, attribution, and the reliability of information on the Internet. Where can we look to verify if something is true? What sources can we trust, and which ones should we question?

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Wolfram US Presidents Reference App is a reference app for exploring facts about the presidents of the United States. Each president has a profile that includes both personal and relevant historical information. On the personal side, the profile includes places and dates of birth and death, family members, physical characteristics (like height), associated historical sites (like the president's birthplace), and a portrait. The historical info includes a list of leadership offices held, a timeline of important dates, a list of notable facts, a summary of the president's Wikipedia entry, and a graph of that entry's hits over time. Users can access and explore these profiles through the Name List (where presidents are listed in order of service), the Date List (which lists all the presidents' terms), or in the Compare feature (where users can view two presidents' profiles side by side).

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Wolfram US Presidents is powered by the Wolfram Alpha search engine, one of the Web's best and most innovative search engines. This means that there's a wealth of data the deeper you dive: The timelines have tons of events and can be tuned by calendar and extended to include today. The real-time Wikipedia page view timeline is an interesting conversation starter. And the Compare feature is a fun way to encourage students to compare presidents who were contemporaries and political rivals, or to compare unlikely pairs from different periods or time periods.

Unfortunately, the app's reliance on online data can be a liability. The information seems to be updated moment by moment, so President Obama's younger daughter's name can alternate between her nickname and her full name within a single sitting. Elsewhere, some information is blatantly wrong: Politician George P. Bush is listed as the son of President George W. Bush, when the younger man is in fact the president's nephew. These shifting sands may give teachers pause, but the inconsistencies seem to crop up mostly in the personal, more trivia-like sections of the profiles. Stick to the facts like the timeline and notable facts and use this as a quick reference tool for exploring presidential lives and achievements in broad strokes.

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Text-heavy interface won't wow users, but easy browsing may amuse kids as they roam free and explore.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Tools for comparing and exploring data boost engagement; the features are simple, but they're engrossing. Watch out for some unreliable info along the way.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Consistent interface and intuitive navigation make for an easy browsing experience, but some users may be unsettled by dynamic information.


Common Sense Reviewer
Patricia Monticello Kievlan Foundation/nonprofit member