Field Trip to Wolfram Research

Nov 3, 2008 by

October was a busy month (I was out of town 3 out of 4 weekends), so now I’m catching up. One of my trips was to the Mathematica User Conference in Champaign, Illinois. While I was there I got a tour of Wolfram Research. Like other tech companies I’ve visited, they also have a “creativity” room – this one included comfy chairs, a wooden periodic table (with elements in the compartments), a pendulum that hangs over a sand pit. I wish we’d get “creativity” (play) room at our college!

I haven’t been a hard-core Mathematica user, but I’ve been extremely intrigued with the Wolfram Demonstrations Project, and how we can use the demos in our classes. This is tricky, because the demos were never really intended to be anything other than demos. Demonstrations are created by Mathematica users who build the demos because thay are fun or interesting. This user-generated content is growing at a phenominal rate – sometime this week Wolfram should be adding the 4,000th demonstration. There was this great video playing outside the exhibit hall/snack room that showcased a variety of Wolfram Demonstrations.


My presentation was about online calculus and how I am trying to use Wolfram Demonstrations as a teaching tool in this course. Since the demos are not designed for teaching purposes, I often find myself wishing for a slightly different version of a demonstration, but I haven’t been talented enough to create my own (yet). The trickiest part about using the demos is assessing whether the student learned something from going to the demonstration. Sometimes I have students perform some specific task with the demonstration and then use Jing to record an image of the final version. That works okay for some, but it isn’t ideal. So the focus of my talk was to push specifically creating Wolfram Demonstrations for teaching and learning purposes.

We saw a beta of Mathematica 7 at the conference, but because of NDA, I can’t really say anything about it. I am really looking forward to telling you about it’s new features as soon as it is officially released!

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