A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this website.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Wolfram Alpha is not a search engine, though it may look and feel like one. The difference? A search engine points to millions of pages it thinks has the information you want. Wolfram Alpha uses data to calculate and deliver the specific answer. For kids, this means they must ask factual questions and at times, phrase them a certain way. Think "what," "when," "where," and "how many" instead of "why." Plenty of help on the site, including question suggestions will show you what to do.
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What's it about?
Simply enter a question into the search box and WOLFRAM ALPHA will go off to calculate the answer. Questions must be factual and specific, but don't need to be super scientific or technical. For example, \"How many calories in 10 jelly beans?\" is valid but \"How many calories in a candy bar?\" or \"How are jelly beans made?\" are not. Plain English is accepted as well as math problems; try \"gas prices 1980\" and \"2 * 9 - 8 + 7.\" Detailed reports provide the answer as well as links to related topics.
Is it any good?
As long as the data is available, Wolfram Alpha is an impressive number cruncher. It's back-end processing is fast and the answer reports are well designed, downloadable, and shareable. No doubt it's useful and a data junkie's dream, but it will be hit or miss with kids. Unless they have a paid Wolfram Alpha Pro membership or a school assignment requiring use of the site, kids' interaction will be over in two steps: 1) ask a question and 2) read the answer. Curious kids may be fine with that and find its wide range of data fascinating. Kids with specific interests (bridges, football, acoustics, movie budgets) will enjoy the deep dive on their own. And some kids may have no interest in it at all. Language skews toward adults, particularly when more info is needed to narrow down the question.
Talk to your kids about ...
Talk about quantitative and qualitative data. Quantitative data deals with numbers and measurements, while qualitative data relates to descriptions and observations. Which data is most important for choosing a college? Knowing when it's time to water a plant? Deciding to pass the ball or kick it? Purchasing a car? Asking for a date? Discuss the role of data in everyday decisions.
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