Report-card time is coming up, so we're all gearing ourselves up to put on a good show for our kids, telling them how proud we are of them. A 92 in social studies? Yes, very nice. A 95 in language? Bravo, huzzah! The "chef of the future" award in home economics? My son/daughter, the genius! But what's this? A 99 in - algebra!? Finally, a real academic achievement! Now the celebration can really begin!
Not to take anything away from the other no-doubt essential subjects our children will undoubtedly draw upon as they build their futures, but admit it: As parents, we're just a tad more excited when our kids do well in "real" subjects - like math. "Social studies" is nice, but as parents who are now out in the real world, trying to eke out a living, we can appreciate the importance of good math skills, essential as they are in so many high-paying professions.
What if your kids aren't as mathematically inclined as you'd like? Well, with summer coming up, here's an idea: Instead of their Facebooking all day, encourage (insist!) that they spend some time at the new Wolfram Alpha Web site (http://www.wolframalpha.com/), the world's first and most advanced "computational knowledge engine." What the designer of this site, British mathematician Stephen Wolfram (http://tinyurl.com/225s4j) has done is build a combination search/problem solving engine that lists facts and/or figures out data, all on one site, just by inputting queries in (more or less) plain English.
The range of data the site can manipulate and the way it can manipulate it is so varied, it's impossible to list it all in such a short space. Here are some examples: Find/compare life expectancy, GDP, per-capita income, etc. of any two countries, continents, etc.; get/compare information on chemicals, ions, solutions; find out the highest/lowest, warmest/coldest cities in any country; compare features of aircraft (747 vs 767); compute fuel usage; get/compare statistics on languages and words; get/compare nutrition information on food (including brand names); even get information about movies and music. I am doing a real disservice to this site, because it really is much more diverse and has many more features than I can describe. One thing's for sure: If you get your kid hooked on this site, s/he will be raring to go when math class comes around next September.