When I was helping some of my students review for their final exam tonight, I was reminded about Wolfram|Alpha, and how to effectively use it in the classroom. One of my students was trying a factoring problem, and he all of a sudden started typing it into his computer. I asked him what he was doing, and he told me that he was using WA. I was also reminded that I was the one who told him about it. I am very adamant that WA is an effective tool to aid in student learning, as long as it is used properly. I have no problem with students checking their work to a factoring problem using WA.
That being said, how do we bridge the gap between what students can do at home and in the classroom if all of the students don’t have a computer with internet access to use during class. And even when students do have a computer to use, even fewer schools have computer labs where the instructor can control the screen of the students during the class so that students cannot be doing things during class that take away from learning, such as checking Facebook. By the way, this is a problem even in graduate classes, as a student in the Education class I was taking this semester was constantly using Facebook during class, even with the instructor sitting just inches away from her. I repeat, a graduate student was doing this.
So, what is the solution to use WA effectively? I’m not sure that there will ever be a solution. Even if there were a solution today, WA would evolve, and our solution would have to evolve with it. For now, the Wolfram|Alpha for Educators page is doing a decent job of getting us started, and even includes links to some sample lesson plans to use WA effectively in the classroom.