Wolfram|Alpha

Why do you still teach knowledge? With the launch of Wolfram|Alpha, you are going to find yourself squirming more than ever when asked this question at the dinner table.

Einstein famously asked “Why should I clutter my brain with information that is readily available from reference sources?” And that was in the days when recovering such information required a trip to a (physical) library. I would much rather spend my time instilling into young minds the habit (and skills) of reflexively hitting Google, Wikipedia and, now, Wolfram whenever they find themselves wondering about the date of this, the composition of that, or the method for the other.

So, what is the difference between these three sources of information? To get an idea, I investigated a current topic, Swine Flu, via each. My particular interest is I want to know the likelihood of contracting it myself when I visit Brazil this Autumn.

  • Google returns a rich mix of news, scientific information and adverts for Tamiflu. All useful background, but little to help make a prediction.
  • Wikipedia has a fantastic history of swine flu back to 1918, but very little numerical information of any kind.
  • Wolfram just gives me the numbers. To date, only 11 cases in Brazil compared to 137 in the UK. Graphs of cases worldwide since the start of the outbreak show that growth is roughly linear and not exponential as it would be in a true epidemic. Based on this, I can extrapolate that there will be approx. 20,000 cases and 100 deaths per month worldwide. Of these, perhaps as few as 10 cases per month and no deaths will be in Brazil. So, safe to travel.

I don’t propose that Wolfram has the answer to everything but it does have its place amongst tools your students are using now, and tools they will use in future. I do hope that you will encourage your students to take delight in what it can do for them.

P.S. Your best educational use of Wolfram|Alpha in the comments please!

Yes, Yacapaca works with Google Chrome

Chrome
Google launched their own web browser, Chrome yesterday. It is likely to prove popular because it is faster and safer than Internet Explorer.

Every website owner meets the launch of a new browser with a mixture of excitement and dread. They each have their foibles (whilst staunchly maintaining that they are ‘standards compliant’ and everyone else has got it wrong), and they often mangle otherwise beautiful websites horribly. Well I’m glad to say that Yacapaca works fine in Chrome. Even the heavily Javascripted pages flew along in our tests.

Most of the pundits are raving about Chrome, you may want to try it out for yourself.

TeachMeet 08 and an argument with Doug Belshaw

Having sworn blind I’d never attend another BETT, I couldn’t resist going to TeachMeet 08 there on Friday. And what a treat it was. Short presentations from lots of people knew of, or knew online, but had never met.

Doug Dickinson from FlickrMy favourite presentation was Doug Dickinson promoting the free ICT support from IctOpus. Ignoring all the technology on offer, he leapt from one side of the stage to the other holding up keyword flashcards, in complete silence. The old ways, sometimes, really are the best. Photo left; lots more event photos on Flickr.

Highlight of the evening though was the argument I got into with top educational blogger Doug Belshaw, as we enjoyed pizza after the meeting. My ideal school contain only 200 pupils, and run right through from 5 to 18. Rather than try to base subject experts in the school, I would use technology to link them to the students. Meanwhile, the (generalist) teachers who are permanently based there have a chance to really get to know each student. Doug thought this was bonkers. Of course, he’s a teacher, and I’m not – but then again, perhaps he is too close to current practice to see the alternatives?

Whose side would you be on?

Why Yacapaca?






I’ve given a talk a few times on the why of Yacapaca, but it seems a bit daft with all this technology at our disposal to go running round the country just to give a didactic presentation. So, today I finally got around to converting the ePortfolio I was using as a slideshow to a multimedia presentation. I used Flektor, a really nice online multimedia composer. Flektor is fairly new and the movie embed is still a little unreliable, but just follow this link and you’ll get to the presentation. About 7 minutes long, and maybe worth using as a starter for an INSET presentation?

Easy-peasy screencasts

Screencast

Sandra Lothian from the New South Wales YMCA asked a question (login req) in the Yacapaca forum yesterday:

Once you have created a quiz, short-text assessment or eportfolio. Where do you go to preview what it will look like?

 

A great chance to try out Jing, a ‘casual screencasting’ tool I’ve just started using. Here’s how it works. Once installed, Jing leaves a little menu permanently on your screen. At any time you can define an area of the screen and start recording it. When done, click the ‘share’ button and the video uploads itself to a server and send back a url that you can use as a link. In the case of the video I did for Sandra it’s http://www.screencast.com/t/W_KliBfnvW

Until now, screencasts have been quite complicated to make. You had to master a powerful program like Captivate (PC only – yuk!), organise hosting, get an FTP program to upload files, etc, etc. For the screencast-based Yacapaca Training Disk, I hired the extremely competent Mike Highfield to do it all for us, and got a great result. But that took money and time as you will know if you were one of the people we kept waiting for the new disk.

 

For on-the-fly class teaching Jing is a brilliant tool. Jing itself is free, but the screencast hoting service that makes it so compelling cost £3.50/month after the first two months. If you use it regularly (and I think I shall), that’s astonishingly good value.

Meanwhile – did my screencast do its job? Well, Sandra is blogging her experience of Yacapaca, so why not go and ask her!