At work today, I overheard a conversation between two of my coworkers. Gary the retired teacher was explaining to Tessa the college student the benefits of a graphing calculator. Tessa listened politely, and just as politely mentioned that she might already have a graphing calculator.
Gary was a math teacher all of his life. When graphing calculators first entered the market, Gary convinced his school board to let him teach a class on the use of graphing calculators. In his experience, graphing calculators were the wave of the future, changing the way we view and manipulate data. Gary’s class on graphing calculators helped students to visualize the data they were working with.
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that his wave of the future is rapidly becoming obsolete. What Tessa would spend over one hundred dollars on from Texas Instruments she could also download for free onto her smart phone, tablet or laptop. In fact, with the Wolfram Alpha search engine, she could enter the problem and let it do all of the calculation for her. Beautiful, interactive graphs displaying vast arrays of complex data, right at her fingertips. Wolfram Alpha goes beyond the common graphing calculator, providing access to a massive database of information on topics ranging from the Gini index of the United States to the chemical structure of dopamine to the caloric content of a Big Mac.
Tomorrow when I show Gary how to use Wolfram Alpha, he’ll light up like a Christmas tree. That’s the best part of new technology, after all; the way it opens our minds to new ways of understanding our world.
Speaking of visualizing data in a new way, here’s a website that tries to help us grasp the distance to Mars. Thanks for reading!