Using Google search options

I am preparing some lessons on research for the new year 7 students. Knowledge about how make internet searches more efficient  is something that students from all year levels could refresh from time to time.

We always seem to begin with Google as it is the one everyone seems to know best. Most students  use Google almost exclusively but wikipedia and Youtube are also high up on their lists. We all can see how Google has changed since it was first developed. Some things are very obvious and others less so. It is very easy to get into a rut and not notice some changes. It is always interesting to see how much the year 7 students know. Many have a very basic level of knowledge but are very confident they know how to search. Many teachers seem to assume that students are proficient at searching the web but many

I usually ask them some basic questions that gradually show how well they can narrow down searches. It is interesting how many hands go down as I ask my various questions. After this initial introduction they always want to learn how to do the things I ask about.

I also ask the students put the icon for the  Google “advanced search” on their favourites tool bar as we go through the lesson. The fields shown there are useful for reminding the students about how they can narrow down their searches.

The options that Google has on its simple search page has not been noticed by very many students let alone used by them. The tab “search tools ” can be really useful for them and they don’t have to be on the advanced search page.

Basic searchIt  offers some very useful options to help refine searches.

You can choose:

  • “The Web”- drops down the option of Australian sites or the whole web,
  • “Any time” - once clicked,  allows you to search from information from an hour ago to a year ago or to customize your date range.
  • “All results”  – is the list that I think offers some of the best options to refine searches. The option which has especially interested some teachers who work in student support (for students who find classroom work more difficult than most) is the reading level option. I talk about using it depending on whether or not you are new to a subject or already have some understanding.

Search tools - all results

If you choose this option, it breaks down the level of difficulty on one of these will into 3 types: basic, intermediate and advanced. Clicking on any one of these will give you the sites that Google has designated fit that description.

search: reading levels

In an advanced search  these can be combined in many more a variety of ways rather than having to choose just one or another.

I can see the “search tools” option in Google being used quite a bit this year although I must not fail to mention InstaGrok, which is a visual search engine that offers the option to choose the level of difficulty as well as a number of other great features. I wrote a post about Instagrok last year  but since then can be used in Explorer

Visual Search Engine Instagrok is a learning tool too

After looking around for some more visual search engines, I decided to have a play with instaGrok. The first thing to note is that it does not work with Internet explorer so I used Google Chrome to do my searching (or you can also use Mozilla Firefox).

InstaGrok is designed to help learners find educational content.

It is not simply an alternative to others I have used in the past ie. Eyeplorer or Google’s old Wonder Wheel. It is a fresh approach which is very easy to navigate and offers so much more than a simple web of suggested search terms.

I tried searching “Tasmanian tiger” which was one of the research topics our year 8 students were given recently.

instaGrok searched this topic and quickly collected an assortment of useful and related content that is categorized and displayed under  lists of facts on the “Tasmanian tiger”. The screen is split into two main areas. On the left side of the screen you had a cloud showing the concept/keywords you initially entered into your search with other related terms surrounding it. Students often need help to refine their searches and this offers a visual way to see some of the topics that relate to the initial search. If you double-click on one of the related topics it offers another array of options but you original search also stays on the screen.

On the right side of the screen, under the heading “Key facts”, there were links to different forms of information on that topic. These change as you refine the search. Here you have the more usual type of information.

They options include:

  • key facts (great for students to get started on a topic new to them)
  • websites
  •  videos
  • images
  • quizzes on the topic and
  • concept cloud at the bottom for another way to refine the search

Decide what type of resource you want and open, for instance video or photo, and look in this area you get little thumbnails that are linked to their site. You can choose “more” and the screen changes to show the thumbnails to the right of the sites they come from and, on the left of this screen, there is a long list of themes and concepts you can “tick” to refine your search again.

Another nice little option is the slider. If the results that you find are too difficult to comprehend or are too basic, use the difficulty slider to change the results.

You don’t need to join to use the search but if you do you have some extra options. When you find materials that are useful for your research, you can pin them or add them to your instaGrok journal. You can add notes to the links in your journal as well. The journal can be emailled or printed

When logging in for the first time you have three options. You select whether you’re a going to be a regular user (General), teacher or student. Teachers can create a class code for their class (case-sensitive) and students can then enter that teacher’s code. Using this option allows teachers to check student’ journals and their searching history. This would help teachers to develop a better understand the researching capabilities of their students and assist them to help students improve with the most appropriate skills tips.

In short the things that I thought instaGrok offers students (and teachers):

  • It is easy to visualize concepts and their relationships
  • The key facts are simple and help users to gain basic information about their topic
  • Offers an easy way to explore websites,videos,images
  • Users can easily select the difficulty level of concepts/materials
  • Allows users to organize materials and links into an account
  • Students can test their knowledge with the auto-generated quizzes it creates
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