Ruben Puentedura describes some of the Promise and Perils of Wolfram|Alpha. If we want to create cultures that use data to improve our practice, then we should invest some effort in navigating between the promise and the perils.
Image by SCSpaeth aka k6 via FlickrI have been thinking about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) because the MLTI Student Conference next week chose it as a theme. I hope we can address the theme in our presentation in ways that will engage both students and teachers. An ITeam member told me that he thought the abstract I had written about our work for the conference was accurate but not engaging for students. He predicted that teachers may attend but students may choose to go to sessions that capture their interest.*
If Wolfram were interested in hoarding their data, then why do they offer access to it in various forms? The Live Mathematica link obviously promotes the purchase of their flagship product. But they encourage use and make Mathematica available to K-12 educators for a reasonable investment of time and money (30 Minutes to Mathematica: Watch three video tutorials for 30 minutes and pay only $50 for two copies of a program worth hundreds).
I don't expect mobs of K-12 teachers breaking down the gates to take Wolfram up on the offer. But if we find ways for ITeam members to do for Wolfram|Alpha and Mathematica what Brandon is doing with iTouch, then teachers may welcome the contributions as some are doing with the Air Mouse, screenshots, and other tools he and other ITeam members are exploring.
The ITeams Lobsterman's Research Project (Center Island Weather Station) seems to have potential as a driver for this approach. This project grows out of members' interests and may provide them with a motivation to apply math in a meaningful context that I did not experience until I was a graduate student. Wolfram|Alpha's Examples - Weather and Meteorology may provide us with starting points.
*Reflection: We are clearly making wonderful progress developing ITeam as a collaborative community of practice if they feel free to assess my work with such candor.