Thursday, May 14, 2009

Things Just Changed. Again.

Do you teach math? Science? Geography? Economics? Health? Business? Language Arts?

Wait, let me start over.

Do you teach?

Wait, let me start over again.

Are you alive, and curious?

Okay, that’s better. I think this is worth 13 minutes of your time. Go watch it, then come back.

I believe Wolfram Alpha is supposed to go live tomorrow. It’s obviously still very, very new (will they change its name to Wolfram Beta later? That will mess up the URL’s. Kidding.) It will be interesting to see what kinds of searches lend themselves to this more computational approach and what kinds don’t, but I still think this is another big step in how humans find, access, digest and repurpose information. Designed to “compute answers to your specific questions,” this once again should make us examine what we are doing in our classrooms, and how we should best prepare our students to be successful in an age with this much computational firepower.

What facts (discrete pieces of information?) do we need to know in order to develop deep understandings of important concepts, and what facts can we just google or wolfram (or will the verb be alpha)? What previously unknown relationships might be teased out of the data by the Wolfrom Alpha algorithms, or what will humans looking at this data in new and unique ways discover? What new questions will we learn to ask, or will we learn to ask old questions in new ways? (You can also view a much longer talk by Stephen Wolfram at the Berkman Center. No, I have not watched it all yet.)

Also note that Google is evolving as well. Joyce Valenza has a good summary post over at School Library Journal that discusses the new features. I also thought this quote she shared from a Google presenter was interesting,
If users can’t spell, it’s our problem. If they don’t know how to form the syntax, it’s our problem. If there’s not enough content, it’s our problem.
Hmm. I wonder whose problem it is if our students don’t know how to question, ask/search, find, evaluate, synthesize, repurpose, remix, and solve problems using tools like Google and Wolfrom Alpha?


  1. Very cool! Thanks for the link and educating

  2. Way cool! I think I had trouble wrapping my mind around it because I kept wanting to think of it as a search engine. It looks like a search engine and behaves similarly to a search engine. But obviously it isn't one. And quite simply, there will be things this will work for and things that it won't. It'll be interesting to see how it develops and how many of these basic 'computations' it can really incorporate.

    Looks ambitious, can't wait to play around with it! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Oh, wow. THIS is what I learned today. Thanks for alerting us!

  4. I experimented with Wolfram|Alpha over the weekend, then alerted my faculty colleagues to it via school email this morning.

    As I said in my blog this morning, "Blocking content on the Internet is tantamount to admitting that your school can’t do better than what your students find there on the ‘Net. It’s proof that your institution can’t deal with change. It’s a demonstration that your teachers and administrators are unable to cope with new knowledge or new means of accessing knowledge."

    I'm saddened to admit that most teachers responded with hopes for a block, or suggestions that we should just not let students know that this website is out there. Sad, very sad.

  5. HOLY Smakerel! WOW! This is a game changer. In the 90's "we" were saying, why teach kids to memorize basic computational facts because they will have calculators, instead teach them how to think about math and problem solve. Now THIS takes that whole idea to a WHOLE 'nother level. But the underlying premise is the same...TEACH kids to THINK and QUESTION and LEARN! Inquiry will be the core of learning...Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

  6. Wow. That was awesome. I will now withdraw from the world for several hours to explore and learn, which is exactly what we need our students to be able to do!