Wolfram Alpha is a reference site –- it provides the answers, but what happens next is up to the questioner. There are plenty of creative ways to use the data, but it probably works best with a science- or math-based curriculum. The Resources page provides access to an Educators section with lesson plans and ideas for all curricular areas. Wolfram Alpha has also created several mobile apps that could be used depending on class resources.Continue reading Show less
Wolfram Alpha, the oddly named Web resource, isn't quite a search engine nor a database, but a way to find info online based on computation and algorithms. Ask a search engine, "What's the distance to Rigel?" and you’ll see a list of links to pages that might have the answer. Ask Wolfram Alpha, and you get "266.7 parsecs," plus the distance in miles, light years, and kilometers.
Enter a question into a search box, and Wolfram Alpha will go off to find or calculate the answer. Questions must be factual and specific but don’t need to be overly scientific or technical. For example, "How many calories in 10 jelly beans?" is valid, but "How many calories in a candy bar?" or "How are jelly beans made?" are not. Plain English is accepted as well as math problems; try "gas prices 1980" and "2 * 9 - 8 + 7." Detailed reports provide the answer as well as links to related topics. A video tutorial shows users what to do, including how to use plain English or enter math problems. Think "what," "when," "where," and "how many" instead of "why."
Wolfram Alpha's databases cover hundreds of topics; kids can ask about aluminum production, mold spores, or the weather on the day they were born. The Examples page provides a list of data categories; however, some topics are still under development, such as humor, disasters, and ecology. If kids plan to use the site as part of a learning activity, take time to ensure the information is available. When you need an exact answer, Wolfram Alpha is efficient, accurate, and reliable –- as long as the answer can be found in one of its databases and the question is asked correctly.
There are questions the site can’t answer, and its attempts to narrow down the query can further complicate it. Answers are a mix of text and graphics like data tables, graphs, maps, word clouds, etc. Most impressive are its answers to math problems where it will show the answer and visual representations like manipulatives, number lines, or even elliptic paraboloids. This approach supports kids with different learning preferences.
Key Standards Supported
Reading History/Social Studies
Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.
Reading Informational Text
Integrate information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue.
Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 11–12 texts and topics.
Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., quantitative data, video, multimedia) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
Evaluate the hypotheses, data, analysis, and conclusions in a science or technical text, verifying the data when possible and corroborating or challenging conclusions with other sources of information.
Synthesize information from a range of sources (e.g., texts, experiments, simulations) into a coherent understanding of a process, phenomenon, or concept, resolving conflicting information when possible.
Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 6–8 texts and topics.
Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually (e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table).
Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text.
Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 9–10 texts and topics.
Translate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text into visual form (e.g., a table or chart) and translate information expressed visually or mathematically (e.g., in an equation) into words.