Anyone who has been to any of my presentations in the past couple of years knows that I’m passionate about teaching search skills. Not only search skills, but how search can and is truly changing our world. Search has the possibility to change our classrooms tomorrow because we can ask interesting questions that we never could ask before.
If you are asking your students the same questions today that you asked before Google, it’s time to updated your questions.
Things have changed….the world has changed and questions and information are the main reason why. I consider Dan Russell from Google the father of search today. This guy understands how our world is changing because we can ask questions we never could before.
In this TEDx Talk Dan talks not only about how search is changing our world but more importantly the reading strategies we need to be teaching today to our students around how to read digital information. Dan, through research of his own, goes on to show that only 51% of educators know the digital information reading strategy of “Find”. That’s just one strategy! There are others he talks about in this video. If nothing else this video has fueled my passion even more on why every teacher needs to know and understand this new digital world of information.
I strongly encourage you to watch and listen to this video…what in it speaks to you about our current state of “reading and search skills” as they are taught in our schools today.
To get started, we did a little reverse instruction of our own where I had them read the connectivism article by George Siemens before I arrived. Once I got there, we then set up the classroom for discussion with collaborative note taking and a back channel chat…both were new concepts to most present.
However, as cool as it was to be talking with faculty at a University, I soon found myself apologizing for the K-12 system and its failure in providing students with the skills they need to be ready for college.
As we were having a great discussion about the connectivism article and what it meant for universities and their classrooms, one faculty member spoke up with this:
I just wish they could find information better. They can’t tell the junk from the good stuff.
….and that’s when I started apologizing for our K-12 system. I find it sad that university professors are not using technology in their classes. They are not trying new things like posing interesting questions and having students research those questions and come to class ready to have deep discussions about them because “they can’t tell the junk from the good stuff”. As soon as this statement was made, heads started nodding around the room and with my own recent rantings on this subject as well….I led them into that discussion.
“I’m sorry the K-12 system has failed your students….they should know how to search by the time they get to college. But seeing that they don’t, until your students come prepared, you are going to have to pick up the slack.”
I then spent 30 minutes teaching university faculty how to search….because guess what……they didn’t know how to either. Which is exactly what I’ve come across with K-12 teachers, which helps to explain the unpreparedness of our students. So who is teaching our teachers the skills they need to teach our students?
Full disclosure: I haven’t read the whole paper yet but am reading it as I write this. I think this paper should, if nothing else, raise our concerns on just how bad our education system is right now in teaching kids to search or reSEARCH.
Overall, the vast majority of these teachers say a top priority in today’s classrooms should be teaching students how to “judge the quality of online information.” As a result, a significant portion of the teachers surveyed here report spending class time discussing with students how search engines work, how to assess the reliability of the information they find online, and how to improve their search skills. They also spend time constructing assignments that point students toward the best online resources and encourage the use of sources other than search engines. (Highlights by me) (Student_Research p.2)
OK…so these AP teachers (that’s who the survey was done on) say they “spend class time.” We do not know how much, or when they are teaching the skill of search.
Teachers and students alike report that for today’s students, “research” means “Googling.” As a result, some teachers report that for their students “doing research” has shifted from a relatively slow process of intellectual curiosity and discovery to a fast-paced, short-term exercise aimed at locating just enough information to complete an assignment. (Student_Research p.3)
Really? Because I thought this was a given in society as a whole. Even in the age of libraries and encyclopedias, the research that most students I know did was often an “exercise aimed at locating just enough information to complete the assignment”…it just took us a lot longer to locate that information-it did not make it more meaningful. Let’s remember we’re talking about 14-18 year olds here. Everything is about “just enough information to complete an assignment”. If the assignment is not engaging, has no meaning to me, of course I’m going to do the bare minimum. Isn’t that human nature? Now, if the question matters to me, then research becomes deep and meaningful…but there is a sense of Drive here that is not being talked about.
OK, this table appears on page 6:
I’ll stop reading here as I’m tired and this research is frustrating me. It’s telling me things I already know. In fact, I should like it as between this research and my own experiences, I know this is an issue. I would say it should be one of the #1 issues that every school is looking at, and really it isn’t that hard of an issue to fix. Teach search skills, don’t talk about them, don’t think students already know them-teach them. Search is THE most important skill of our time. When I mean Search, I mean all six of these questions above. That’s search or reSEARCH if you want to get technical about it. I understand….the web as we know it has only been around for 18 years or so and Google only 8 years (well…since their IPO and people really knew who they were). In the history of education, that’s small potatoes, I get it. I get that education and educational curriculum are slow moving entities, but we are doing our students a disservice. We are not preparing them for university and we’re not preparing them for the world that awaits. We are failing on both fronts and really there is no reason we should be.
Set Up: Each student with their own computer or device or as close as possible.
Prime the Pump: When learning to do research not only is it worth your time to do in depth research, but also to find the most current research out there on your subject. From today on, I will not accept websites as resources that are older than 3 years.
As you search for information on Google, Google allows you to set a date range using the menu on the left hand side to refine your search by date. Because information changes so quickly having relevant information that is up to date is a must.
Find the date range area “Search Tools” link right under the search box.
Create a custom date range from today’s date going back 3 years.
You will notice the search results change as you set the date range. Depending on how fast information within your topic is changing you can widen or narrow the dates in which you search. As a rule of thumb, 3 years is a good range for any data you need for research papers in school.
On Their Own: Have students play with both the date range and the site: syntax to see how these two very powerful filters can be used together to get you the results you want. Depending on how much students know, you can also introduce them to the “create a phrase” as well as the AND syntax to combine more than one thought.
Homework: Watch these three videos from the Head of Google Search about advance search techniques to help you be more efficient in your searching.
From the millions of results we can look at how the Chinese government views global warming. Once I do this search, I might do a search for other countries and their take on global warming. I can then compare and contrast the information that is coming from different countries and what each country is doing, not doing, or what they believe is the cause of global warming.
In this lesson we will be teaching about domain extensions and the Google Search Syntax ‘site’: as well as how to turn on reading levels in Google Advance Search. Together this knowledge will allow students to find the relevant information they need while doing research.
Set Up: It is best if each student has their own computer for this lesson, however groups of 2-4 will work as well.
Prime the Pump:There is a lot of information on the Internet today. Do a search for any term and Google will give you back millions of hits. But finding the right information can be tricky. Google is pretty good at giving us the information we want but how do you search through the millions of results to get the information that is right for you without wasting time reading through the wrong web pages.By understanding domain extensions and using Google’s site: search syntax we can quickly get to the information we need.
Who can own a website?
What does .com stand for?
What about .org?
How about .net?
Who can own these websites?
Answer: Anyone. These along with others are called “open domains” and anyone can own them for about $10-15 for each website. You don’t have to be a certain age, you don’t have to own a business, you just have to be willing to pay.
Historical Side Note: When the Internet started nobody thought it would be what it is today. In fact they thought only three entities would use the Internet. Commercial Businesses, Organizations, and Networks. Of course we know today the Internet is much larger than was originally anticipated. Things got ugly when the Internet starting becoming popular and people starting buying .com websites that were not businesses, or .org websites that were not organizations. In the end they all became “open domains” or anyone could own them.
Closed Domains: There are a few closed domains on the Internet. Domains that you cannot buy unless you are a specific business or government. The two most well known closed domains are .gov (government) and .edu or .ac (Education or Academic Institution depending on the country). Nobody can buy these domains. .gov domains are reserved for governments and .edu and .ac are reserved for schools. Only governments and schools can have those domains.
Country Domains: As the Internet grew people needed to know where the website was located. For example .gov gives you the United States Government but if you want the Chinese government you need .gov.cn. By creating country domains the Internet can be searched for information by country.
Why is this useful?
When finding information on the Internet it can be useful to know where that information is coming from. For example, if I’m looking up information on Penguins in South Africa and I find a website that has a domain .gov.za I know that this information is coming from the South African Government.
Using site:in Google
Google has made it easy for us to find information by domain extensions by using a search syntax called site:
Open up a tab to Google.com and search for Penguins
How many results did you get (somewhere in the 90 million range)
Now if we know we want information about Penguins in South Africa we can use site: to bring those results to the top.
Do a search for Penguins site:gov.za
This is the search for websites containing the word Penguins within the domain gov.za or the government of South Africa.
How many search results did you get?
Can you narrow down your search further
Penguins AND eating site:gov.za
How many results now? A lot less than 90 million
Turning on Reading Levels in Google Search
Now the information you have is written by the government fo rSouth Africa and not all of it is at your reading level. Lucky for us Google can help us see what is at our reading level.
Scroll to the bottom of your search results page
Click on Advance Search
Scroll towards the bottom until you see Reading Levels
Change to Intermediate
Click Advance Search
You will be taken back to your search results page but this time the websites that have a reading level of Intermediate (about a middle school level) will be at the top. Still too hard? Click on Basic (about a 4th grade reading level) and those results (if there are any) come to the top.
Searching Education Sites
Now that we have reading levels turned on let’s do another search for Penguins.
Penguins AND eating site:ac.za
These are schools in South Africa that talk about Penguins and, because we have the reading level turned on, web sites at our reading level come to the top.
On Their Own:
Can you search for information about the following using site: and search .edu or .ac and .gov sites?
Cats in Egypt
Snakes in Thailand
Castles in Germany
What? You don’t know the domains for those countries? How would you find them? Can you do a search for that?
This is a great lesson to come back to time and time again as you do research projects over the course of the year. I also highly recommend that you create a poster of country level domains to hang in your classroom so that students can use it for guidance when finding information on any subject.
A screenshot of my search results for penguins site:gov.za. Notice that we only have 271 results. That’s a lot less to look through when we add “AND eating” we get somewhere near 27 results even better! Always point out that these results do not show up on the front page of our original Google search for just Penguins.
At the bottom of a search results page you’ll find the Advanced search button
Once you have clicked on Advanced search you can scroll to the bottom and find the reading level setting where you can change it to your desired reading leave. Have students play with this until they find the reading level they need.
In this lesson we will be focusing on learning if you can trust a website based on its looks.
We will use the great fake site thedogisland.com. Students in this age love this site and easily get sucked in to all the great pictures and writing about how great this island is for dogs. A fun place to start the conversation on authenticating your resources.
Extension: If you really want to mess with your kids you can have them search Google for Dog Island. Now the website talks about a fictional island for dogs but in reality there is an island named Dog Island off the coast of Florida in the United States. But it’s just a small island and no….you can’t drop off your dog there to vacation. So if you want to take this lesson a step further you have this in your back pocket. 🙂
Set Up: Students can all be on their own device or in groups of 2 or 3. Groups might actually be better as you can give students time to talk to each other. I will use the phrase “turn and talk”to indicate time when students should be in discussion with each other.
Prime The Pump: Put on your acting hat as we’re going to sell students on the fact that you found this great website called “Dog Island” the other day while looking for information on the web. It’s an amazing web site about an island just for dogs where they can go on vacation and live happily (if you have a dog you can sell it even more that way!). Tell the students that this island sounds fantastic but you’re really not sure about it and you want them to help you find out more information about the island. You can give them the URL and give them some time to explore the site on their own and turn and talk to each other about the website.
How do we know if we can trust a site?
There are a couple of key pieces of information that will help us decide if we can trust a site or not. Each of us needs to make up our minds if we can trust the site, in the end it’s a judgement call on the user’s part. But these key pieces of information can help us.
These results show which websits are linking to thedogisland.com
Allow students to “Turn and Talk” abou the results
What do you notice?
Who is linking to this web site:
Note: All links to this site are either internal, meaning that the website just constantly links to itself, or there are websites made to tell people that these fake sites exist. Either way it doesn’t take long at this point to realize this site is fake with no outside authentication.
How did the author sell this site as real?
Have students turn and talk about what aspects of the site make it seem real at first glance. i.e. it looks nice, has great pictures, seems to be “normal”.
Have a conversation along the lines of “you can’t judge a book by it’s cover”. These websites are made for you to think they are real. They want you to explore them and what they are really hoping for is that you click on an ad so the author gets paid.
On Their Own:Have students work in teams assigning each team to one of the links below. Give them time to see if they can use what they’ve learned to discover if these websites are real or fake. Have them report back to the class with their findings.Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus(fake)Pacific Tree Frog (real)
In this lesson plan the idea will be to introduce students to Google and the search syntax ‘AND’. It will also begin the discussion about where ads appear on a Google Search result as well as other websites. At this age, every time I show a web page I take a couple minutes to have the students point out where the ads are on the page. This helps them to get a visual representation of how the web page is layed out and where to click and not to click to get to the information they want.
I encourage you to do the searches ahead of time so you are familiar with the results that will show and where the ads will show in the search results.
Set Up: Have students join you on the floor in front of the projected display of Google.comon the wall.Teacher Cheat: Before beginning, especially with younger students I encourage you to go into the Advance Search settings at the bottom of any Google Search results page and turn on Reading Level to “Basic Results”. This way when you start doing your search with students you’ll automatically be getting results that are more at their level.
Prime The Pump:Ask questions to gauge students understanding of Google.
How many of you know this website?
How many of you have used this website?
What is this website used for?
How can this website help us?
Where do you think we click on this website to begin using it?
The purpose here is to learn how many students have been exposed to Google before and whether they can identify where to click to begin a search.
Our First Search:Choose a topic that you are learning about now or take a topic from the crowd. Animals are always fun to start with, so in this case I’ll be using Penguins.
If I wanted to find out what Penguins eat what would I do?
Have students give you answers until some suggest typing Penguins into the search box.
Next look over the results page as a class.
What do you notice about our results?
What do you find interesting?
What are you wondering about?
Ads on Search Results pages
Explain to students that companies put ads on web pages the same way they put ads on cartoons and on the big signs along the roads.
Why do you think companies use ads? (Have a discussion about ads)
Explain that web pages have ads too and that they are not always easy to spot or find.
Can you find the ads on this page?
How do you know those are ads?
What hints does Google give us to tell us those are ads?
What do you think we should do now that we know the ads are there?
Refining your search
After doing the search for Penguins scroll through the page looking at the results and discuss with students that there is a lot of information here on all kinds of penguins and what they do.
What do we really want to know about Penguins? (What they eat)
Explain to student that by using the word AND we can refine our search for web pages that talk only about Penguins AND what they eat
The words “what they” we really do not want so have a discussion with the students about eliminating these words until our search is Penguins AND Eat
At this point you should be able to identify a web page that gives you the information you are looking for.
This lesson can be used all year long to help reinforce the idea of “deep searching” and refining a search result. In my primary classroom, this same lesson would be done at least once a week throughout the school year. It could be used to introduce a new unit or topic, it could be used when a student asks a question, or just as a transition activity if a student has had a question they want to know the answer to.
Identifying Ads on a Web Page
This is a critical skill for this age group and in my classroom, I would take a moment every time we were on a web page to “find the ads”. Even great kid sites like National Geographic for Kids are full of ads. Learning where ads are helps us be more productive and in the long run will help keep students focused on the task at hand.
Screenshot of the search results for penguins on my computer. Your search results may differ but take time to talk about different aspects of the search results page. In these results I did not get any ads but I did get the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team website as well as the game Club Penguin. These are not the results we’re looking for. The last result here might have the information we need but we’ll have to search the entire page to find it. It will be easier to narrow our search from the start.
This is a screenshot of the search Penguins AND eating. Notice we get our answer in three different ways and because I’ve turned on the Reading Level to Basic I know that these results are going to be more age appropriate vs the Wikipedia entry that came up in our first search. You can read about what they eat, you can see what they eat, and you can watch a video about what they eat. Information comes in many forms….another great conversation!
As the new school year is upon us and I find myself not in a school for the first time since I started Preschool so many years ago, I was thinking about what I would be doing if I was starting this school year teaching a class of 4th graders (still my favorite grade). There would be all the usual ice breaker activities that teachers use to start building community in their classrooms and then soon enough the lessons would begin.
I would take the first week to try and build some skills and expectations that we would be using all year long. I believe one of the most valuable skills I can teach my students is the skill of search.
It doesn’t matter what the content is, what unit we would be in, or what other standards we needed to meet before the year’s end. What matters most is a foundation in search. I would teach search skills the first week and then build upon them week after week. This, I feel, would put my students in a place that not only would they be able to start learning for themselves but they would be building a life skill that is critical from now until we get chips planted in our brains that can read our thoughts and search for us (which I think would be really cool).
So in honor of all you teachers out there that are starting another school year, I thought I would create search lesson plans for you to use within the first month of school. Over the next four days I’ll be releasing a lesson plan a day here on my blog that you will be able to download in PDF form or make a copy of in a Google Doc to edit and tweak to your liking. I will create a lesson plan tailored for K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. They will be pretty generic in form in hopes that you will be able to adapt it to your school, classroom, or situation.
All that I ask in return is that you let me know via a comment, an e-mail or your own reflective blog posts how the lesson went, what adaptations you made to it, and if you changed it. I would ask that you share that lesson plan somewhere on the web for others to use as well. All the lesson plans will be released under a Creative Commons 3.0 License.
Google resently announce a free course they are offering in mid-July. I have signed up for it as I still believe search is the most important skill any of us can learn and teach our students. The course is taught by one of Google’s top search engineers and will be held in the format of a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). If you are looking for something to do in mid-July join me, and I have a feeling thousands of others, in learning some new tips and tricks about searching the web using Google.
Power Searching with Google is a free online, community-based course showcasing search techniques and how to use them to solve real, everyday problems.
Six 50-minute classes.
Interactive activities to practice new skills.
Opportunities to connect with others using Google Groups, Google+, and Hangouts on Air.
Upon passing the post-course assessment, a printable Certificate of Completion will be emailed to you.
Google anncouned Google Instant today…or was that yesterday….today to me, yesterday to you? Anyway, sometime in the past 48 hours Google launched their new search engine.
Some people have been asking does this change mean anything to educators and education?
The answer is: Absolutly!
It changes the way we teach search. When teaching search skills to 2nd graders (You do teach search skills to your 2nd graders right?) I always use the word dolphin for a couple of reasons.
1. It’s a safe search
2. It returns millions of hits
3. You’ll get search results for both the football team and the animal
But now that’s all changed. Above you’ll see what I get now when I search for Dolphins with Google Instant. Student now have instant feedback as they type and can then correct or continue typing and narrow down their search.My search will be narrowed down to exactly what I want before I even actualy hit the search button.
I think it’s a positive change as basically we’ve just done away with a lot of search syntax we use to have to teach kids and can now search….literally…in real time.