Wolfram Alpha is a new online computational engine that can solve virtually any math problem that a student could have. Instead of returning a set of web pages like Google, a search on Wolfram Alpha returns a set of data. For instance a student who is working on the problem integral of sin(x)cos(x)dx, can enter this into Wolfram Alpha and it will spit out a solution, including alternate forms and graphs.
Teachers may fear that students will simply breeze through their homework by typing in the problems into Wolfram Alpha and copying the answers. This is definitely a possibility, but on the positive site Wolfram Alpha can help a student who wants to check their work.
As a research tool, it can provide several useful applications for students. For instance one can enter “earthquake” and the results will show the data for earthquakes for the last 24 hours or last 2 months. Enter in “life expectancy US, Sweden, Japan” and it will compare average life expectancies. Or enter “gdp of france” and it will produce a graph that charts GDP over time.
Wolfram Alpha was created by famous scientist Stephen Wolfram with the goal to “make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone”. They want to make it possible for anyone to be able to compute anything.
Wolfram Alpha is an innovative tool that can change how people research for objective information. It takes some time to get used to because it is not Google, but once you learn how to use it, it can be a very powerful tool for finding information or solving problems. In the future, I think the ability to find information using the internet will be a very valuable skill, so students should be encouraged to experiment with it. To show students a demonstration of how to use Wolfram Alpha go to www.wolframalpha.com/screencast/introducingwolframalpha.html.