WolframAlpha Facebook Report

Apr 12, 2013 by

This is a delightful exercise that everyone seems to love. WolframAlpha will provide you with an extremely detailed analysis of your own Facebook data including visualizations, world clouds, graphs, and more.

Graph of Facebook Activity over time




Here’s how:

  1. Go to WolframAlpha.com.
  2. Type “Facebook Report” and execute the search.
  3. Allow WolframAlpha to have access to your Facebook account by clicking on “Analyze my Facebook Data” and following the directions.
  4. Wait while the data is analyzed.

Note: Sometimes the report seems to stall after 100% of the data is analyzed. If this happens, simply repeat steps 1-3. The second time, the report seems to load just fine.


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Moving Math from Analog to Digital

Jul 3, 2009 by

Arthur Benjamin has been on TED in the past (see Mathemagics) and has done a really phenomenal job.

Here’s his latest 3-minute appearance, called “A Formula for Changing Math Education.”

The problem is that the very short talk does not present a “formula” for changing education, just Benjamin’s idea that the pinnacle at the top of the math pyramid should be statistics instead of calculus. There is nothing in the the short talk that suggests any kind of coherent plan for how it could be done, or even a suggestion that he has a plan. That’s what I would want to know about. Of course, it’s only a 3-minute talk and it’s certainly possible that he had nothing to do with the name of the talk.

I did agree with these two statements, but want to add my own two cents:

1. “very few people actually use calculus in a conscious meaningful way in their day to day lives” … but I’m not sure we teach people how to use calculus in a “conscious meaningful way” nor are many of us required to use calculus for the simple reason that our superiors don’t understand it at all. Calculus could be used in a “conscious meaningful way” but our society chooses not to engage. As a matter of fact, very few people actually use statistics in a conscious meaningful way in their day to day lives. Enough said.

2. “it’s time for our mathematics to change from analog to digital” … here I agree, kind of. It’s time for our mathematics to include both analog and digital, and it’s definitely time for our mathematics teaching to change from analog to digital. What happens in most math classrooms is based on a factory-model of education that developed before computers even existed. Even though the world has changed, the instruction (for the most part) has not.

I found it more interesting to read through the comments that followed the short TED talk. There is an interesting conversation taking place there. One wise commenter pointed out that it’s possible that there should not be just one pinnacle on the math pyramid. Both Calculus and Statistics could be considered penultimate goals of a mathematics education. I think that’s dead-on.

If there’s anything I’ve learned during the process of writing my dissertation, it’s that the system of collegiate mathematics education is extremely complex.  There will be no “easy” fix to the system, even if someone is able to convince a majority of the stakeholders that their change is the correct one.

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Mathematics of Coercion

Apr 13, 2009 by


Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, a consultant to the CIA and DOD, uses mathematical analysis to predict the outcome of “messy” human events in this 2009 TED Talk: Three predictions on the future of Iran, and the math to back it up.  He claims that we can use mathematics to predict the outcomes of complex negotiations or situations involving coercion (everything that has to do with politics and business).

His modeling is based in Game Theory, which (he says) is based on three assumptions that (1) people are rationally self-interested, (2) that people have values and beliefs, and (3) people face limitations.  The CIA verifies the predictive ability of the model, claiming it is correct 90% of the time even when the experts are wrong.

To build a model of the outcomes, he says he need to know (1) Who has a stake in the decision? (2) What do they say they want? (3) How focused are they on one issue compared to other issues? (4) How much persuasive influence could they exert?  Using this, we can predict behavior by assuming that everybody cares about two things: the outcome (effect on their career) and the credit (ego).  In the model, you must be able to estimate people’s choices, chances they are willing to take, values, and beliefs about other people.  Believe it or not, history is not necessary for the model.

Other than the mention of mathematics and a really general look at game theory, there was not a lot of mathematics in this talk.  There was one concrete mathematical example that you might be able to utilize in one of your classes (especially if you teach a little combinatorics as part of Probability and Statistics or Liberal Arts Mathematics):

To build a model that predicts the outcome of complicated social events, we need to look at the interactions between all of the people who have input in the decision-making (the influencers).  The number of interactions between n influencers is n!  If we double the number of influencers in the interaction, does that double the number of interactions?  (to use this example, play from 4:24 to about 7:15)

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Teaching Statistics with Clickers

Mar 31, 2009 by

I haven’t talked a lot about clickers on this blog, mostly because there’s no easy way for me to try using them for a semester and because I’ve focused a lot of my free time on learning to teach math online.

My college has a set of clickers that can be checked out by faculty, but it’s always a guessing game (when you “check out” equipment) whether the previous user will remember to turn in the equipment before your class meeting time.

If it was affordable, I’d probably just purchase a full class set myself and then not have to worry about the costs to students (but that seems a little extreme at roughly $2000 for a class set).

In the meantime, Derek Bruff has two great posts on teaching Statistics using classroom response systems (or clickers), so I’m sending you there!

Check it out here (Part I and Part II).

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Teaching Math with Clickers

Feb 13, 2009 by

Today’s guest blogger is Derek Bruff, Assistant Director for the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University. Derek writes a blog you may have stumbled across called Teaching with Classroom Response Systems.

Here’s a question I ask the students in my probability and statistics course:

Your sister-in-law calls to say that she’s having twins. Which of the following is more likely? (Assume that she’s not having identical twins.)

A. Twin boys
B. Twin girls
C. One boy and one girl
D. All are equally likely

Since I ask this question using a classroom response system, each of my students is able to submit his or her response to the question using a handheld device called a clicker. The clickers beam the students’ responses via radio frequencies to a receiver attached to my classroom computer. Software on the computer generates a histogram that shows the distribution of student responses.

I first ask my students to respond to the question individually, without discussing it. Usually, the histogram shows me that most of the students answered incorrectly, which tells me that the question is one worth asking. I then ask my students to discuss the question in pairs or small groups, then submit their (possibly different) answers again using their clickers. This generates a buzz in the classroom as students discuss and debate the answer choices with their peers.

After the second “vote,” the histogram usually shows me that there’s some convergence to the correct answer, choice C in this case. This sets the stage for a great classwide discussion. I usually ask a student who changed his or her mind to share their reasoning with the class. I then invite other students to defend or question particular answer choices. I usually wrap things up by drawing the appropriate tree diagram on the board, which helps to explain this question and introduces to the students a visual tool they can use to analyze similar probability questions.

Why use clickers to ask a question like this one? There are several reasons. The histogram generated by the classroom response system I use gives me useful information on my students’ learning. If the histogram shows me that the students understand the question, then I can quickly move on to the next topic. If the histogram shows me that the students are confused, then I can drill down on the question at hand, using the popular wrong answers to guide the discussion.

Asking for a show of hands might provide similar information, but students answering a question by raising their hands don’t answer independently. They look to their peers as they answer, which means that the distribution of hands I see doesn’t accurately reflect my students’ understanding. Using clickers allows my students to answer independently, yielding more useful information I can use to make teaching decisions.

While individual student responses are visible to the students, they are visible to me. This means that I can hold students accountable for their responses by counting clicker questions as part of the students’ participation grades. Clickers provide me a way to expect each and every student to engage with the questions I ask them during class, not just the students who are quick or bold enough to volunteer answers verbally.

Moreover, showing the students the distribution of responses can enhance the classroom dynamic. When students see that two or more answers are popular, they become more interested in the question. When it is obvious from the histogram and from what I tell my students that most students answered a question incorrectly, students are more ready to hear the reasoning for the correct answer.

Classroom response systems can be very effective tools for engaging students during class and for gathering information on student learning useful for making “on the fly” teaching choices. Resources you may find helpful for using clickers in your mathematics courses include the following.

Project Math QUEST – This NSF-funded project out of Carroll College has generated clicker question banks for linear algebra and differential equations. Their Web site also includes question banks for precalculus and calculus courses. Their resources page features links to over a dozen published articles on teaching math with clickers.

• “Clickers: A Classroom Innovation” – Here’s a longer article on teaching with clickers I wrote for the NEA’s higher education magazine, Advocate.

Teaching with Classroom Response Systems Blog – I use my blog to discuss research on teaching with clickers, case studies of clickers in the classroom, conference sessions on clickers, and other resources. The blog is a companion of sorts to my book, Teaching with Classroom Response Systems: Creating Active Learning Environments, available from Jossey-Bass on February 17th.

Thanks to Derek for the post! With any luck, I’ll be back in the USA this afternoon and we will resume our regularly scheduled programming.

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