A colleague let me know that Wolframalpha for the iPhone is only $1.99 now. While you can use Wolframalpha already on your iPhone by using the browser and going to http://wolframalpha.com I thought I would see what features the app has that were not at the website. So I invested my $2. I decided to limit my first exploration to seeing how Wolframalpha would do on a beginning algebra exam.
First I noticed that Wolframalpha has an expanded keyboard that is useful when entering mathematical expressions. It returned the answer promptly and the desired result was usually the first entry.
The show steps button just shows one way to do the problem. For students who have had a lot of math it is probably a great refresher. Many algebra students in the United States learn factoring before completing the square so the description below would not be helpful for them.
Students would need to use critical thinking with Wolframalpha. When asked to graph 3x-2y=12 Wolframalpha’s first graph had an unexpected scale on the y-axis. Scrolling down students could see the expected answer. They would need to determine which was the appropriate response to the question.
The syntax was easy enough to guess. I was able to get Wolframalpha to solve a formula on the first try. It’s algebra steps were clear and should be understandable to a beginning algebra student. It was unexpected to see the variable for which Wolframalpha should solve moved to the other side of the equation, however.
It was worth $1.99 to not have to shift between three keyboards to enter data and to not have to launch the browser and use a bookmark. As I experiment with Wolframalpha I may post again if there are other differences I find between the app and the mobile version of the website. And I will repeat my prediction that graphing calculators will no longer exist in five years. If I continue to predict this every five years eventually I’ll be right, won’t I?