Teaching complicated concepts on the Internet isn't always easy. Articles work well to an extent, but sometimes words just aren't enough to articulate a principle that is more graphical in nature. Videos work well, but sometimes it's more helpful if people can interact with the graphics in order to see how manipulating areas affects other elements of a system. The Wolfram Research group established the Wolfram Project to fill that niche need in educational and scientific fields. The end product was Wolfram Demonstrations
This project is an interesting integration of very complex, detailed information offered to the public in the form of very impressive, interactive video-like applications.
The functioning of that interactivity comes from a java-based application called the Wolfram CDF Player. A CDF file is the extension of the file format for these interactive video files. The only way to properly view and use these video files is by downloading and installing the CDF player.
This video format has the potential to change the way information is shared on the Internet. It breaks through the limitations of modern-day videos, and allows watchers to take a more active role in the exchange of information.
Wolfram Main Page
You can explore thousands of available video demonstrations already hosted at the Wolfram Demonstrations Project page.
The most recent interactive videos (called "demonstrations" at Wolfram) are listed under "View Latest". If you want to dig back through the existing library of demonstrations, just scroll down the page. You'll see a "Browse Topics" area where all of the demonstrations (currently over 7000 of them) are archived. Categories include Engineering, Math, Kids & Fun, Creative Arts and much more.
Browsing Available Demonstrations
When you click on any of the demonstration links, you'll see an overview page with a snapshot of the demonstration (this isn't the interactive area), and a list of related demonstrations on the right. You can use the search field at the top of the screen to dig through the thousands of demonstrations for the area of expertise you're looking for.
Also, if you have your own expertise that you want to share, you can learn how to code your own demonstrations, and access the tools needed to do so, by clicking the "Authoring Area" link at the top of the screen.
Download or Share
If you find a demonstration that looks interesting to you links above it where you can either download the demonstration itself, or you can download the source code for it. That's right - the Wolfram Project is completely open source. Anyone can start with the source code of a similar demonstration, and then tweak it to suit their specific needs.
As you can see above the download buttons, the Wolfram site is well integrated into all major social networks. If you spot a demonstration that you find impressive, share it with Facebook friends or Tweet it on Twitter with the click of a button.
The Wolfram CDF Player
If you want to try the demonstrations, first make sure to download the CDF player from the download link on the Wolfram site. Once you've installed it, you can click to download the demonstration. Your computer will automatically detect that it needs to launch the player in order for you to play the interactive video.
One impressive example is the image shown above of one Wolfram demonstration video showing how medical images can be segmented. As you click on the buttons for segment size, and you move the slider to change the foreground threshold, the image below automatically changes to match those selected variables. By showing how your selections can change the effects, the demonstration serves as a powerful teaching tool to portray complex ideas and concepts.
Viewing the Source Code
If you want to see some of the work that goes into the development of these demonstration applications, just click on the "source" option in the player, and you'll see all of the code that goes behind the demonstration itself. Demonstration authors learn this programming language and are able to use it to develop these fascinating interactive displays.
It isn't quite as complicated as it looks - developers use a series of tools, such as Mathematica, that helps with illustrating the concept that you're trying to present. To learn more about being a contributor, click on the "Participate" link on the Wolfram Demonstrations Project website.
Viewing the Source Code
When you start browsing through the website, you'll quickly learn just how powerful these demonstrations can be. You'll find simple and entertaining interactive videos, but you'll also find some of the most complex and impressive demonstrations that portray important concepts for students in both high school and college to learn - such as algorithms, numerical computing, understanding how data analysis works, as well as computational graphics and visualization.
If you browse through the Kids area of demonstrations, you'll even find interactive videos that double as small virtual games for kids to play, such as the "alien creator" where kids can change different characteristics about an alien, and then watch as their alien changes appearance in the window below.
Some of the more advanced Wolfram demonstrations cover more than just mathematics. You'll discover amazing demonstrations in systems modeling, business systems, physical sciences and even navigation concepts. The list is impressive, and it keeps growing every day.
For educators, this library of interactive demonstrations represents a reserve of knowledge and information just waiting to be tapped into. By installing the Wolfram CDF reader on a classroom computer or at home, teachers and parents can offer free lessons to students using a tool that's built by some of the leading experts in each respective field. That is a resource that is always difficult to come by in any educational setting.
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