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

Useful sites (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Interesting ways to use…. by Tom Barrett

Tom Barrett has been sharing his class ideas and tips about using various tools in GoogleDocs presentations for quite a while and I have been collecting them in my bookmarks. He has now put all of them together in his blog. The presentations are in easy to use in their Google docs format and he invites others to share ideas. They are worth looking at/using and, if you have some tips that have not been mentioned, think about contributing.

The latest one I found was Ten Interesting Ways* to Use Audio in your Classroom. We have been doing some work with audio and I recently listened to a discussion on music in the novel, so I am interested in exploring this area some more.

 The other presentations are listed below but don’t be surprised if the numbers have changed.

Still in the early stages are:

EyePlorer – beta visual search engine

eyePlorer2I have been looking at other visual search engine alternatives to SearchMe. Beta visual search engine EyePlorer is a reference search engine that takes your initial keyword search term and displays related terms in a color wheel of information based around that term. When you hover over the different areas of the color wheel or click on a topic, information (from Wikipedia) is revealed about that term in the default eyePlorer facts window that opens up. If the information is useful and you want to save for later use, you can drag it  onto the EyePlorer notebook at the side. These facts you put into the notebook can be rearranged as needed. Once you have your notes, you can either save, copy or email them.You also have the option of choosing websearch view, that offers links to other sites or an images window (results from Bing). The images are also linked to their sites of origin.eyePlorer-images

These short explanations from Wikipedia could help give students an overview of the topic without having to read the whole article. They could then go on to do a more indepth search with a better understanding of the topic. All students I know understand about checking the data for accuracy.

Other options for EyePlorer users include:

  • “i” button under the search box. Click on this to get a quick summary of the topic
  • “+” button to add search parameters
  • the paper button to go to a Google search.

Class use:

This is a an interesting way for students to think about research and explore for new information.  Students very easily create a visual guide to their inquiry. It is then a very easy step to drag and drop what they find out into a notebook. This can form the basis for more in-depth research. The brief notes could enable students to see note making as a way taking down main points and important ideas, rather than copying whole slabs of text. The way that the information in the notebook can be rearranged could  also help them to go on to think about or work on organising ideas into some sort of order to form the basis of some structure for an argument, conjecture or essay.

It could also be used on a class wide basis.  When a teacher wants to introduce a new concept/idea. Using a data projector, so the whole class can watch, the teacher could type the subject into the search and then the whole class could work together to decide which information they want/need to save in the (class)notebook for later. It would also allow the whole class to work on the above ideas.

eyePlorer was created in Germany so you can choose to search in German or English. I had heard that you need to manually choose English but I typed in search terms with English spelling and it automatically searched for results in English for me

Wolfram Alpha and information searching

Wolfram Alpha, announced on morning TV today and on everyone’s lips as the news got around. Earlier this week a tweet alerted me to this new kind of search engine and I watched a demonstration screencast about how it might work.


The statements about “killing” Google that are going around seem, to me,  to be a bit silly. Wolfram Alpha is a different search engine to Google, and  it does not aim to do exactly the same thing. Yes, in general terms both aim give information that will answer your query, but they have a different approach as to how you find the answers to your queries. As we all know, Google, and other such search engines, refers to links to other sites related to the keyword/s used to set up the search. It is as it states, a web search engine.

Wolfram Alpha is a knowledge based engine tries to compute answers for a different type of question. It returns is a summary of information that it has garnered from all over the net so it does not offer sites but displays the results to the question, very quickly. It does depend on the questioning technique and it will have to be able to understand the question, therefore the programming will have to take into account the idiosyncrasies of human language.

QuestionTipsThere are a few tips on how ask questions that will yeild the best results. I have played around with some questions that have been asked by students in the last fortnight. It did not do well on some but on others.

For instance “How is electricity measured?” did not come up with a result and I had to click on another link to work out the probable answer. “What is hydropower?” asked by the teacher did not yeild results but “What is hydroelectricity?” did give me a nice basic answer. A question about carbon nanotubes also came up without an answer as did “applications of nanotechnology” It did tell me how many eearthquakes there were in Asia in the last 2 months and the rate of inflation in China, both within seconds. Searching for the element carbon also brought up a lot of data. Searching the “black death” gave me a timeline and “Islamic renaissance” was interpreted as  “Islamic golden age” and listed the timeline and the countries, and “William the Conqueror” was also found easily. I found information that was basic but would answer many of the questions set by teachers in assignments because they were simple questions. You can download the results as a PDF and you get information about the source of the resultant data. There is no indication about what information came from what source but you can follow you search further when the information is linked.

In a post, on PhoenixRealm (Phoenix SEO Blog), by Hannah called  WolframAlpha: A Knowledge Engine there is a good summary of what WA can do.

The thing about WolframAlpha though is that since it is a computational knowledge engine it won’t return the latest movie show times or restaurant addresses, which is good news to Google and the other search engines because they are still needed for those kind of searches. What WolframAlpha will return though are all the information that I needed way back in college to make my life easier. It will compute any mathematical formula and plot functions, compute relativistic momentum, give you the financial background of a company and extrapolate the data to predict future trend, allow comparison between performance of companies, give you information about any date, and so much more. In short it is what it claims to be a KNOWLEDGE ENGINE.

While this is not yet artificial intelligence, it is getting closer to it. It is taking the information available on the internet and trying to combine it into some form of logical context/content. There are also ramifications for education. Teachers will need to ask better questions and expect more than just a rewording of the information found. It really is not about whether students can find the information but what they actually do with it. The learning networks and now the other searching tools available are changing the knowledge world. How students understand the information they find, put it into new contexts, expand on it, etc. will/should be the learning that is assessed. The higher order thinking skills and the ability to judge/analyse the relevance/appropriateness/reliability of information found will be the important skills that must be the major part of learning world of the student. Teachers need to be creating environments that encourage students to become active learners in this world not passive receptacles of whatever bits of information they are given.

Below is a long video explaining Stephen Wolfram’s ambitious project to create a comprehensive “computational knowledge engine.” The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University hosted a sneak preview of the Wolfram|Alpha system, and a discussion of its underlying technology and implications. There is also a podcast  of an interview between Stephen Wolfram, the brains behind Mathematica, and David Weinberger, where he explains how the Wolfram Alpha tool works, and what it might do to searching in the future

Sites gone but not forgotten


We are about to start a new year but already we have been hearing about the demise of various tools, one being Google Notes. There are many websites that are no longer with us.  It Died  tries to keep track of them. It itemises sites that have been (or will be) taken down or have just disappeared. It also discusses features that have been dropped from those sites that are still around.

The description for Google Notes:

Google Notes: The service allowed you to annotate Google search results by linking and creating notes. Google has various offerings that replicate but don’t fully replace this offering, which obviously didn’t have enough uptake to develop. The service won’t stop working for those using it, but no one can newly sign up for Notebook, nor will development proceed.


The site has only been around since late last year and is edited by Glenn Fleishman. Edited by Glenn Fleishman. You can send tips or news to So next time you can’t find some site, you could try this, and you might find some explanation. At least until it too no longer exists!

Speaking about things that have died but remembered (and other silly things), the world famous Dead Parrot sketch, here, in its entirety!

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