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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Planes Overhead and Other Cool Wolfram Alpha Things

Yesterday, I saw a neat demonstration of Wolfram Alpha on Patrick Higgins's blog. The demo, embedded below, shows you what you happens when you enter the term "planes overhead" in Wolfram Alpha. As you'll see, Wolfram Alpha doesn't act like Google, Bing, or any other search engine. I think the video is a great demonstration of what makes Wolfram Alpha neat.


Watching the above video got me to dive into my archives for other Wolfram Alpha posts. Consider this my Wolfram Alpha round-up post.

Wolfram Alpha for Educators is a collection of free lesson plans, examples of, and ideas for using Wolfram Alpha in the classroom. The lesson plans are currently arranged in three categories; mathematics, science, and social studies. All of the lesson plans are available as free pdf downloads. The lesson plans are labeled according to grade level, but you cannot see the grade level label until you download the lesson plan. In addition to the free lesson plans, Wolfram Alpha has a small collection of videos featuring teachers explaining how they are using Wolfram Alpha in their classrooms.

The Wolfram Alpha widget builder allows anyone to create a computational search widget. Once created the widgets can easily be embedded into Blogger, WordPress, iGoogle, and just about any other website or blog service. Published widgets appear in a gallery that is accessible to anyone that registers with Wolfram Alpha. Creating a Wolfram Alpha Widget is a fairly straight-forward process. To get started, enter a search phrase such as "distance from Boston to New York in inches." In the second step you define the variables for your widget. This second step is the crucial step that I had to try a few times before I got it right. After completing step two the rest of the process is a simple matter of selecting the output format, widget theme, and writing a description of the widget.

Goofram is a mash-up of Google Search and Wolfram Alpha search. Enter your search term(s) into Goofram and it will display relevant results drawn from Google and Wolfram Alpha. Goofram really shines when you're searching for information about a topic that could potentially have a lot of numerical information as well as text-based information. For example, when I searched using the phrase, "first person to climb Mount Everest," the result was a column of links, generated by Google, to articles about Mount Everest and a column of statistical information, generated by Wolfram Alpha, about Mount Everest.

Wolfram Alpha is known as a computation and statistics search engine, but Wolfram Alpha offers more than that. Two of examples of this are found in Wolfram's new word widgets. Wolfram now offers a dictionary widget that provides users with definitions, synonyms, and pronunciations.



In July I gave a short live demonstration of the computational search engine Wolfram Alpha. As I was wrapping-up the demonstration someone in the audience reminded me that there are some desktop widgets and browser extensions that put Wolfram Alpha at your fingertips. Acting on that reminder I installed the Wolfram Alpha desktop gadget for Windows 7. The entire collection of gadgets and browser extensions includes gadgets for Windows and Mac desktops, an iGoogle gadget, and browser extensions for Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer, and Opera. Not sure what makes Wolfram Alpha different from Google or Bing? Watch this short video introduction to Wolfram Alpha.

Wolfram Tones uses algorithms, music theory, and sound samples to generate new collections of sounds. Visitors to Wolfram Tones can experiment with sounds and rhythms to make their own sounds. Wolfram Tones allows visitors to choose samples from fifteen different genres of music on which to build their own sounds. Once a genre is selected visitors can then alter the rhythms, instrumentation, and pitch mapping of their sounds. When satisfied with their creations, users can download their sounds or have them sent directly to their cell phones.

Time Search - Searching History on a Timeline

Time Search is a good general resource for history teachers and students. Simply enter a year, press "go" and you're shown a list of significant events that happened in that year. Scroll up or down the list to see events that happened early or late in that year. Time Search offers options for refining event lists by theme or region in addition to the obvious date refinement option.

Applications for Education
Time Search could be a handy reference tool for history teachers and students. The events displayed by Time Search don't contain much detail so it is best used as a general resource to get ideas and get started on research activities. The "Search Sites" option provides links to other resources that contain information about the year entered into your search.

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