Okay, technically it was a workshop at ICTCM, but with 30 math faculty in one room, all armed with computers, I couldn’t help but make it a discovery and brainstorming session too.  I’m a firm believer in harnessing the power of a room of people instead of talking to them (provided that we have some technology to facilitate that).

This post is Part I … the discovery portion of the workshop.

One of the things that made this workshop a bit out-of-the-ordinary for math workshops was that I set up a “backchannel” for participants to use to share their thoughts, discoveries, and ideas.   To do this, I used a Chatzy Virtual Room – anyone can “join the room” as long as they know the URL – just state your name, and you’re in the chat room.  This made the discovery process collaborative, as well as fast and furious as everyone in the room got a chance to contribute to the conversation in real time.


The first question I was asked (which I am asked in almost every workshop I do), is how on earth I was magnifying just a small portion of the screen (like where the input box was).  I use a free tool called the Virtual Magnifier.


The group “play” with Wolfram Alpha lasted for about an hour, during which we (they, mostly) discovered quite a few interesting things, all of which I am sharing with you here in a clickable format.


Did we forget to mention that you can copy images (or save them) directly from W|A output? [right click or command-click (mac) on the image to get copy and save options] You can actually do this for any output of W|A, including tables, equations, and images.





  • When you use ln(x) the output shows log(x), which has traditionally been Mathematica notation for natural log.  To get a log with base b, use log(b,x).  Yes, the graphs suck.  That’s something I’ll post about later this week.

With Wolfram Alpha, you can compare any list of items that have some kind of data associated with them.  Just separate the items with a comma:

Participants also stumbled upon Alpha’s sense of humor …

That was approximately one hour of our Wolfram Alpha Workshop with about 95% of the content and discovery being done by participants.  It took me three hours to write that up, which just goes to show you how powerful a backchannel chat window can be!  I will save the brainstorming session “How can we restructure classroom learning and assignments to use Wolfram Alpha?” in another post.