Wolfram Research Rolls Out ‘Wolfram Education Portal’, Makes Teaching And Learning Much More Interactive
By on January 19th, 2012

Teaching just became a lot easier thanks to Wolfram Research Institute and the resources they have put online. Called the ‘Wolfram Education Portal’, it combines the power of Wolfram research’s best computation engines with other teaching aids like lesson plans to make learning as pleasurable for both teachers and students. Hold on tight as we introduce to you the different features of this wonderful portal.

Wolfram Education Portal: http://education.wolfram.com/
Wealth of information: http://www.wolframalpha.com/educators/

Image 1: Tan(z) on a complex plane.

Wolfram had already demonstrated the power of interactive computational techniques by developing the Computable Document Format or CDF, where it is possible to spice up documents with interactive graphs and figures. The present development seems to be an even bigger jump.

Introducing the Wolfram Education Portal

The Education Portal has a lot of material in the algebra and calculus section, but it will soon expand into other sections as well. Instructors will benefit greatly by being able to easily present the methods of calculation, like finding the slope of a curve, the meaning of discontinuity and numerical integration. It also aims to stress the inculcation of Wolfram’s wonderful web-based mathematical software-cum-database Wolfram|Alpha. There are also a number of introductions to different Wolfram products like Mathematica and CDF.

Exploring it myself

I decided to explore what the big fuss was and was quite impressed. You’ll have to log in with a certain Wolfram ID. If you don’t have one, creating one is extremely easy and it’s free. Once that is done, you can access everything that has been put out there.

Algebra

Let’s first start off with the Algebra section.

In the so-called Library view, you can see that there are currently 90 textbook sections, 68 lesson plans, 15 demonstrations and 10 widgets. I especially liked the widgets; they do simple things quickly and without fuss. I checked out several sections, ‘Multi-Step Equations’, ‘Graphs of Quadratic Functions’ and ‘The Pythagorean Theorem and its Converse’. They contain textbook material, which provides direct, easy-to-understand-and-present material, deliciously sprinkled with a healthy dose of problems.

Instructors might be more interested in the Lesson Plans. It draws up a list of things that the instructor is supposed to teach and the students are supposed to work out. Examples are nicely provided and stress has been laid to the use of Wolfram|Alpha in classrooms. There are also widgets provided in between the examples.

Calculus

Next comes the calculus section. I loved this section more for the simple reason that it is richer in content. This section has demonstrations and widgets. The demonstrations are brilliant and spent quite some time fiddling around with them, even though I knew every technique being shown here. It’s great fun, and it makes you love the things you already know. It will definitely be a great help for students, more as a visual aid than as a computational technique.

I loved the demonstration of numerical integration, using the three different techniques – rectangular (not so accurate), trapezoidal rule (more accurate) and Simpson’s rule (quite accurate). You can easily see the comparison and judge which method works best for different functions. What method are you supposed to use for functions which are discontinuous at certain points? Use the different functions and different methods interactively to find out! It’s a fun way to learn.

Image 2: The derivative of a polynomial. You can change the polynomial (blue) by changing the position of the black knobs. The purple bar, showing the derivative, changes automatically.

I had to mention the demonstration on the squeeze theorem and taking derivatives of polynomials. Can you draw the derivative of any given polynomial by simply looking at it? No? Then give this a try, fiddle around with it and you’ll know how you do that!

Wolfram|Alpha and the classroom

Lastly, I cannot but mention the Wolfram|Alpha and how Wolfram wants teachers to use it for instruction. Wolfram has this comprehensive step-by-step-math guide for Wolfram|Alpha. Give Wolfram|Alpha something to solve and then ask it to show the steps as well. If it can, it will.

Image 3: Wolfram|Alpha showing the steps of the calculation. The 'Show Steps' button is placed right where the 'Hide Steps' button (arrow) is now placed. The equation is quadratic.

Image 4: No steps shown for the cubic equation. But do notice the graphical solution shown.

I found out that it can easily show steps for quadratic equations (image 3), but not so for cubic equations (image 4). I think the method of intersection of curves to solve equations is something that is not given its due importance in classrooms, so it was quite refreshing to see Wolfram|Alpha displaying that as a primary technique.

There you have it! Oh, you can also give suggestions, share material and inform Wolfram about any novel teaching methods that you might have thought of by clicking the give feedback link at the top of the page.

Have a lot of fun with Wolfram Education Portal.

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Author: Debjyoti Bardhan Google Profile for Debjyoti Bardhan
Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.

Debjyoti Bardhan has written and can be contacted at debjyoti@techie-buzz.com.
 
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