Learn More About Anything With Wolfram Alpha

Wolfram alpha has been receiving a lot of attention, and a number of people have seen it as Google’s new rival. In many ways, Wolfram Alpha more than just a search engine – it’s a smart computational knowledge engine.  Anyone who ask Wolfram Alpha factual questions will receive not only facts, but a complete analysis of the questions, with diagrams, charts, and formulas. Wolfram Alpha processes questions through its built-in models, algorithm,  and presents real-world knowledge to users.

In this respect, Wolfram Alpha is smarter than Google. Wolfram Alpha retrieves relevant information, apply scientific models,  and present its answers with data comparison, trends, diagrams,  instead of merely giving you a list of documents that matches your search keywords – like what Google does. The system is elegant, the user interface is simple and clean – it is simply stunning.

No matter what you’d like to learn about, Wolfram Alpha is a great place to start. Here’s how you can use it to learn more about the world around you.

The Wolfram Alpha Story

Stephen Wolfram, the inventor of Wolfram Alpha, is a brilliant scientist who received his Ph. D. in theoretical physics from Caltech in 1979 when he was 20 years old. He built Wolfram Alpha on top of Mathematica, a software for mathematicians, that he invented for solving scientific problems. Naturally, Wolfram Alpha works best with scientific questions, such as mathematics, physics, biology, or engineering. This scientific features of Wolfram Alpha give significant contributions, especially for the education sector. Wolfram Alpha allows students to explore complex scientific problem sets, and learn how functions works, instead of simply memorizing algorithms to solve those problem sets. It gives students a detailed step by step explanation on how to solve a problem, and let them explore different ways for approaching a particular problem by comparing data sets.

Wolfram Alpha lets students derive mathematical concepts from graph, table of values, and find connections from different concepts in mathematics. Wolfram alpha does not only tell students how to solve equations, it encourages them to be creative in the process. If you are a teacher, and you are unsure where to begin, Wolfram Alpha has a set of lesson plans to get yourself familiar with the system. But whether you’re a student, teacher, parent, or just a curious person, there’s tons you can learn from Wolfram Alpha.

Wolfram Alpha in Mathematics

Since Wolfram Alpha sits on top of Mathematica, it excels in solving mathematical equations, and this first lesson will tell you how to use Wolfram Alpha. At the end of this lesson, the students will be able to estimate distances between two points, learn how to read and interpret maps, and locate various places in the world.Wolfram Alpha has a natural language interface for asking it questions. This means students can type this questions in plain English, no knowledge on technical commands is needed to use the system. Consider this simple problem:  How far is it from your town to the capital of your state?

Students can simply enter this question as “Boston to Cambridge MA” into Wolfram Alpha.

Boston to Cambridge MA

Wolfram Alpha acts like an upgraded calculator, it tells us the steps, the solution, the term of the equations, and lots more. When it answers our question, it does not only compute the distance, it also gives the estimated travel time to your state with different mode of transportations.

Travel Time from Boston to Cambridge

Unlike any other web search engine on the net, Wolfram Alpha is also smart enough to simplify equations, and break down complex computations for us.We all know that 3^2 is 9 and 3^3 is 27. What is 3 ^ 2 times 3 ^ 3 ? Is there an easier way to get the answer other than multiplying 9 and 27 ?

Exponents Multiplication

Once students understand that there are more than one ways to multiply exponents, Wolfram Alpha can show you general exponents law.

General Exponents Law

Wolfram Alpha in Physics

Wolfram Alpha’s ability to apply different model of knowledge is its most powerful asset, and this trait has made it than just a mathematical calculator, it is an excellent tool for teaching science lessons. Will a piece of wood floats or sink in water ? Students will give you different answer. Some might tell you that it will sink, some might tell you that it will float. If you remind them of  Archimedes’ discovery of fluid displacement, you can explains why objects float or sink, and Wolfram Alpha will get your class up to speed with Archimedes’ discovery in no time.

Archimedes Principle

Archimedes’ Principle explains that an object will totally or partially immersed in a fluid (liquid or gas) because it is buoyed (lifted) up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid that is displaced.

Archimedes Formula

Once you have explained how Archimedes principle works, your class can use Wolfram Alpha to find the volume, the density for wooden objects, and the density of water.

Volume of a Cylindrical Object

Density of Water

Students will be able to experiment with different wooden density, volume, and see which one floats or sinks in water.

Calculating fraction of Body Submerged in Water

Wolfram Alpha in Social Science

Although Wolfram Alpha has a strong foundation in mathematics, it is also a great tool for learning social sciences. For example, if you were given 100 current dollars in 1950, how much do you think it would be worth ?

Current US Dollars in 1950

Once you are familiar with how Wolfram Alpha works, you can introduce it to your students. Give them a quick session on Wolfram Alpha, and let them try it out – ask what they think of it. If they think Wolfram Alpha helps them, they will make Wolfram Alpha as their virtual tutor – where ever they go, Wolphram Alpha follows them.

Closing Thoughts

Of course, you might wondering, how accurate is Wolfram Alpha? Where does it get all these information from ? Wolfram hires hundreds of people whom curates this information from different data source. This poses a question of bias, those who enter the data, and form the model shaped Wolfram Alpha’s answers. Stephen Wolfram addresses this concern by limiting his search engine to answer those factual questions. He believes by focusing on factual data, he can avoid bias problem. But of course, the accuracy of the data depends on the people who curate them, and the data source that they use.

Stephen Wolfram has designed the tool to give students easier access to knowledge sources that might not been accessible before, and make learning as a creative process. Making Wolfram Alpha as an educational tool is not an easy task. Stephen and his team have to keep up with the evolving knowledge, and capture that knowledge into Wolfram Alpha. This task is not an easy one, it is challenging, and requires a lot of commitment, but Wolfram is confident that this is a task that his team can accomplish.

Although Wolfram Alpha might not be the perfect learning tool, it has a potential to give better ways to learn, and may change the way students learn in the classroom. Try it out, and share your thoughts with the other fellow readers.