Bring the Classroom Home with Free Projects, Computational Explorations and Other Resources
March 17, 2020 — Ishwarya Vardhani, Education Partnerships Manager, Partnerships
Communities the world over are bracing themselves for impact from the novel coronavirus COVID-19. Many school districts in particular have already suspended sessions for several weeks to come—and understandably, parents and educators feel anxious about navigating at-home learning (among the variety of other concerns brought about by a pandemic!).
Professionally, a large part of what I do at Wolfram involves working with educators, students and organizations, and empowering them with the technology to think computationally. I know of several parents with older kids who are now at home, enrolled in schools that are not completely prepared to provide online instruction. While the internet is awash with curricula, it can be a challenging task to assess the quality, relevance and usefulness of each course, given the amount of what is out there.
For decades now at Wolfram, we’ve been committed to the creation of cutting-edge technology and resources for classrooms. Let’s take a look at our wealth of free online resources for quality education while at home.
Peruse the following, or jump directly to the type of projects you need:
- Projects range from one-hour lessons to multi-week sessions
- Topics: computational thinking, programming basics, calculus
- Projects range from one-hour lessons to multi-week sessions, or lessons done at your own pace
- Topics: AI Adventures, programming challenges, data science, machine learning
- Lessons done at your own pace
- Resources: info on COVID-19, curiosity encouragement, any-subject problem generation
Starting Out with Wolfram|Alpha and the Wolfram Language
For anyone who is yet unfamiliar with our products, let’s begin with an overview.
The Wolfram Language is a human-readable computer programming language, one that is very high level and contains a massive amount of built-in data about the world. On a practical level, this means that a student trying to write code about something that interests them (planets, for instance) can directly begin formulating their ideas directly as opposed to focusing on the low-level programming aspects found in other languages.
Wolfram|Alpha is a computational knowledge engine that provides answers to objective queries. Wolfram|Alpha is not a search engine; it doesn’t search the web or scan a database. This is a product that dynamically computes knowledge and solutions based on a vast repository of built-in data and algorithms. The domains powered by Wolfram|Alpha are constantly expanding.
Projects for Beginners to the Wolfram Language
(Time: One hour or less per Exploration. Guidance is not strictly necessary. Ideal for middle-school students.)
If you’re looking for interesting activities to fill 30–60 minutes, I love the Explorations in Wolfram Programming Lab. This is our immersive programming environment, accessible entirely within a browser so you don’t have to download anything, and filled with what we term “Explorations.” Explorations are just that—small coding activities that allow you to explore your topic of choice, be it visualizing what one can see from the tops of skyscrapers around the world, to analyzing a famous speech like the Gettysburg Address, to generating mathematical art using the digits of pi or many other things. These do not require a background in programming—just a curious mind ready for adventure. Each activity comes with pre-written steps of code that can be modified, for guided learning.
I’ve found that initially students just run the code as-is, or make slight modifications. As they run through more activities and their confidence grows, students make larger changes to the provided code and even begin writing entirely new lines of code independently. These Explorations can be led by a parent/teacher or can be self-guided—another plus for a busy parent!
(Time: One hour or less per project. Guidance may be necessary. Ideal for middle- and high-school students.)
If your kids have and love Raspberry Pis (the tiny, single-board computers that are quite popular in maker communities), you may enjoy our curated projects that use the Wolfram Language on the Raspberry Pi. There are great independent activities that are sure to keep students engaged and curious while teaching them important computer science concepts like classification, machine learning, image processing and more.
(Time: Multiple structured lessons; 1–3 weeks. Guidance is not strictly necessary. Ideal for middle- and high-school students.)
If you’re looking for a more structured learning plan that spans a few weeks, I suggest our Wolfram U course based on Stephen Wolfram’s book, An Elementary Introduction to the Wolfram Language, including full book text, video lectures, exercises and a scratch pad for coding. Both the course and the book are fully online and completely free, and offer a systematic, thorough introduction to developing a computational thinking mindset. Each chapter in An Elementary Introduction to the Wolfram Language is accompanied by auto-graded exercises.
Students can pick whichever learning style suits them best. With more than 40 chapters ranging over many capabilities of our easy-to-use language, both the course and the book are great resources for incremental learning over a few weeks. When they finish the course, brought to you by Wolfram U, students will have mastered a high-level programming language that is ubiquitous in colleges and universities—and they’ll receive a downloadable certification to prove it!
(Time: Multiple structured lessons over a few weeks. Guidance is not strictly necessary. Ideal for high-school students.)
At Wolfram, we love math—so much so that we created a comprehensive introduction to calculus geared toward preparing students for AP Calculus AB courses at school. Brought to you for free through Wolfram U, the course is fully online and includes video lectures, interactive notebooks and practice quizzes. This material is designed for self-study, and is perfect for unexpected breaks from school.
Projects for Intermediate/Advanced Wolfram Language Users
(Time: 60–90 minutes per Adventure. Guidance is recommended. Ideal for middle- or high-school students.)
If your students are already familiar with the Wolfram Language, they might enjoy exploring further through AI Adventures. Each Adventure is a 60–90 minute session that introduces students to computational thinking using a lesson guideline. All kinds of topics are covered, like cryptography, map comparison or automated guitar playing. By the end of an Adventure, students will have their own unique notebook that catalogs their exploration of the lesson topic. Typically, we find these lessons work best with an educator/instructor to guide students.
Computational Thinking Initiatives, a program of the Wolfram Foundation, works with educators and parents as they work with groups of students using material and resources we provide. Interested in starting a club or learning more? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on this post, and we will get in touch with you.
(No guidance required. Ideal for middle- or high-school students.)
Do your kids enjoy puzzles? A really fun resource we host is Wolfram Challenges, which is filled with puzzles that test your programming skills and computational thinking acumen. As an example, Country Chains is an especially apt problem to consider during today’s time of social distancing, where entire nations are separating themselves—not just within cities, but on country borders as well.
(Guidance may or may not be necessary. Ideal for high-school students.)
Since terms like “data science” and “machine learning” abound these days, your time at home is the perfect opportunity to take advantage of our fantastic primers available for data science and machine learning, presented as free video courses. If you or your students are already familiar with the resources listed so far, you’ll enjoy putting some of the foundational concepts you already know into action by delving into these popular topics.
Resources for Parents and Programmers of All Ages
Understanding COVID-19 from a Data Perspective
We love data here at Wolfram, and our brightest minds have been looking at the data coming in from across the globe regarding COVID-19. Interesting analyses and discussions about the risk factors, modeling the spread in different regions, forecasting growth—in short, real-time data analysis can be found on Wolfram Community. As this is a rapidly evolving situation, the Wolfram Community post and our dedicated COVID-19 dashboard are updated daily. If you have advanced students interested in viewing this pandemic from a data-driven perspective, these resources are for you.
Nurturing Intellectual Curiosity with Wolfram|Alpha
Wolfram|Alpha is a fantastic tool to encourage curiosity and to help answer the (seemingly endless) questions kids can have about any and every topic. Wolfram|Alpha is geared to do way more than math—take a look at some of the light-hearted facts, topics and features available for exploration. Given the continually growing list of travel restrictions, some of us at Wolfram have considered slightly unusual methods of travel, and Wolfram|Alpha has helped us figure out how long travel times would be if we traveled at light speed! Regardless of your area of interest, Wolfram|Alpha will have data that you can turn into an interesting exercise.
When I was a middle-school student years ago, I vividly recall being provided handwritten problem sets created by my dedicated older brother. Today, parents and dedicated older siblings alike can use Wolfram’s technology to generate unlimited, unique problem sets ideal for middle- and high-school math topics at the click of a button using the Wolfram Problem Generator. Students can practice online using the Wolfram Problem Generator too.
Wolfram Supports Your Free Education
To support those working or taking classes from home, Wolfram is offering free Mathematica Online access to users of desktop Mathematica through August 15. Organizations and individuals using Mathematica 12 have been contacted and offered free subscriptions. If you have Mathematica through your organization, or have a license you use for work, and haven’t already received a free cloud license to use through the summer, please contact us so we can set that up for you.
We’re hopeful that this time spent at home with your children can be as educational as possible, and we’re glad to be able to provide resources to help you through. If you have follow-up questions or would like to discuss Wolfram tech in education, please reach out to me at email@example.com, or comment on this post.