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Quick Dive: Before… During… After…. The Search

From the “Facilitating Inquiry in the ClassroomSeries” by Michael Gorman

Part One…. Before the Search…. 15 Great Pre-search and Question Tools

I wish to build on  the steps outlined in a past post with practical ideas. I would like to introduce some tools that can be used to help facilitate the pre-search and question asking period of time with students. By understanding the need for pre-search and inquiry one can see how these tools, some of which you may already know, can be used in a different way to help students as they get ready to research.  Please enjoy the tools and let me know of other that I can include in a future post.

1. Visuwords™ online graphical dictionary —An amazing web tool allowing students to  look up words to find their meanings and associations with other words and concepts. Students will learn how words associate and will come up with new possible search terms. It is easy to enter words into the search box. Students can then look them up or double-click a node to expand the tree. When the mouse hovers over a node, one can see the definition. You can even click and drag individual nodes to move them around to help clarify connections.  Note from developer: “Visuwords™ uses Princeton University’s WordNet, an opensource database built by University students and language researchers. Combined with a visualization tool and user interface built from a combination of modern web technologies, Visuwords™ is available as a free resource to all patrons of the web.”

  • It’s a dictionary! It’s a thesaurus!
  • Great for writers, journalists, students, teachers, and artists.
  • The online dictionary is available wherever there’s an internet connection.
  • No membership required

2. Wikipedia – As you may know, this is a multilingual, web-based, free content encyclopedia project operated by the Wikimedia Foundation. The name “Wikipedia” is a portmanteau of the words wiki (a technology for creating collaborative websites, from the Hawaiian word wiki, meaning “quick”) and encyclopedia. Of course, Wikipedia is not the only source of research, and as in all sources should be confirmed with other resources. Wikipedia can be a great place to start because:

  • Wikipedia’s articles provide links to guide the user to related pages with additional information. These links can be powerful at providing insight into the search and possible information.
  • There are words in a Wikipedia article can be recorded as possible keywords for a future search. As students record these  words they may also wish to figure out meanings with a simple Google (define:) search.
  • Wikipedia can give some beginning information that can help define and set the pathway for research
  • The Wikipedia end of article sources can be invaluable in the research and search process.

 3. Wordle – This website   allows for the generation of “word clouds” from the text that is provided to it. These clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text that was input. Students can tweak these word clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. One pre-search strategy would involve placing an article on a topic into Wordle… perhaps from Wikipedia. Once the common words are eliminated the word cloud is made. This is now a great time to discuss and investigate words that are more prominent. Could these words be valuable in the research that will take place?

4. AnswerGarden – This site is best described as a minimalist feedback tool that is easy to use in the classroom. A teacher can create an Answer Garden by entering a topic on the Create New Answer Garden-Page. From there you will be redirected to your newly created Answer Garden Website. Since no-one has posted an answer yet, your Answer Garden will still be empty. The next step is to share your Answer Garden URL. Use it live in the classroom, to pose a question, or place (embed) your Answer Garden on your classroom website. A Driving Question could be posted with a request that students post their Need to Knows. There are countless possibilities. All student feedback  is then represented in your Answer Garden. One neat feature is to be able to export the feedback into a Word Cloud using Wordle or Tagxedo! Imagine the possible reflection and discussion that can spark great research.

5. Text 2 Mindmap -This website allows for a wonderful way to organize thoughts before performing a search. In order to encourage the use of mind mapping, Text 2 Mind Map has provided a free and simple mind mapping tool online.  The easiest way to learn Text2MindMap is to play with it and you will see that your students understand it fast.  Some tips:

Write some text in the text area, use the TAB key to indent text lines, and click the “Draw Mind Map”-button to see what happens. Each text line in the text area will become a separate node in the mind map. Indenting the text (using the TAB key) starts a new branch of nodes in the mind map. Also, have a look at the Options to style your mind map.

How might your students mind map their pre-search strategies? This is a wonderful way to get students to see the pre-search and research process and all of the possible connections. It could be a part of their blueprint for that eventual encounter with the search engine.

6. Diffen – A very interesting tool that lets the user compare anything. What is the difference between DVD+R and DVD-R? What is the difference between an apple and an orange, or  an alligator and a crocodile?  How does the work environment at IBM compare with working at Microsoft? How does living in Seattle compare with living in Amsterdam? What is the difference between a Plasma TV and an LCD TV? How about Cal Tech and UCLA or the Yankees and the Red Sox? These comparisons might clarify some Need To Know question and also provide words that will be valuable in the research process.

7. Thesaurus – Every month more than 50 million users across the globe visit this online English dictionary and thesaurus. That makes it the world’s largest and most authoritative free online dictionary and mobile reference resource.  A thesaurus is invaluable at finding words that might just lend themselves to the research process. It can open up a whole new line up of search word terms.

8. Wordsift – This is a wonderful tool for classroom use. Students can  enter a word into the WordSift “box” and a semantic map appears with different synonyms for the word. It is great for those looking to find research keyword possibilities. When a user hovers over the word or its synonyms, a  definition is produced. Clicking on a synonym brings up a semantic map for that specific word. Each word is accompanied by Google images that illustrate different aspects of the word. Another great way to get students brainstorming and thinking about research possibilities.  A user can link from a word on the list to the same WordSift features.  With  just one click on a word in the list, students will get the same features, as if they had entered it into WordSift.

9. InstaGrok – This tool allows students to research a topic with an interactive map. They can customize it with facts, links, and videos. It is also possible for them to share it to show what they have learned. A wonderful way to journal the research process.

10. Interactive Webbing Tool – Students can use this  interactive from Read-Write-Think to create free-form graphic organizers, They can drag  ideas around in the organizer to arrange any layout and relationship that they want. They can use circle or box (rectangle) shapes to appear on the chart and each layer on the chart will have a different color border for the shapes chosen. Imagine how this can be used to show the path and process in research.

11. Fishbone Diagram This incredible digital tool from Classtools allows students to break down their  per-search ideas and thoughts while providing details and definitions. A Fishbone Diagram has always been a wonderful graphic organizer on paper, and now it can be part of your digital toolkit.

12. Google Image Search – It has often been said that a picture paints a thousand words. Your students can locate images and brainstorm possible search terms that these images provide. Not only will this be powerful as students begin to get ready to search, it is also a wonderful meta-cognitive activity

13. Dictionary – Not much explanation is needed as to why the dictionary can be an important tool in the pre-search time period. Perhaps students need to look up a word in order to understand a question or an answer. This is just one example of many dictionaries online.

14. Google Drive (Docs) – The ability to collaborate together in the brainstorming portion of the pre-search strategy can be amplified by the ability to share digital documents. Your students can share documents, and also use Google’s drawing tools to collaborate, record, and journal their research journey.

15. K-W-L Creator –  Discover another great digital tool from Read-Write-Think. K-W-L charts have been widely used to help students prepare for research by organizing what students know (K) and want to learn before they research, and then reflecting on what they learned (L). This helpful interactive tool is equipped with the work-saver functionality so that students can save their work at different stages in the K-W-L process. Users also have the ability to embed text links, giving an extra level of interaction and explanation.

Part Two…. The Search….Questions and Search Engines

It is important that students know how to search on the internet. This not only includes the basics of “how to”, but also what search engine to use. In this post, I wish to point out five different types of search engines. They include:

  • The Informational Search Engine
  • The Human Reviewed Search Engine
  • The Computational Search Engine
  • The Individualized Search Engine
  • The Social Media SeachEngine

While there are more categories and of course more search engines, it is important to become familiar with these five. It is also imperative that students understand that there is still more information available in the somewhat closed web environment. These include reference services and databases. Your school librarian will be happy to introduce you and your students to some of these highly academic resources. Let’s take a moment to look at these five categories and a search engine from each one. After looking them over take a moment to experiment and try each one out. I know you will also enjoy the sites that follow the five categories encouraging your students to work on their search strategies. I am certain you and your students will enjoy the search and the inquiry just as much as the getting the answer. Also, remember that the answer just might lead to new questions and inquiry!

 Five Categories of Search Engines with an Example for Each

Google Advanced Search – Informational Search Engine –   It may be best  to direct students towards the Google Advanced Search Engine even before using the Google Basic Search. In fact, Advanced Search should be used until students understand how to use these advanced techniques in a Basic Search.  When  educators ask students to search and find information on the internet… it is not to just get the answer. It is to learn an important process that will serve them through future schooling and eventual careers. Take a look at the Google Advanced Search Engine and see why it really should be a basic prerequisite! For those who have been long time users of the advanced search you are probably aware that it is no longer next to the search box in its once prominent location. Instead… it was moved a while ago to the upper right-hand corner appearing as a gear icon and sometimes may not appear until you perform a basic search. The link above takes you directly to the Google Advanced Search Engine. Read more about using the Advanced Search at 21centuryedtech.

Sweet Search – Human Reviewed – It is owned by Dulcinea Media, a company committed to supplying students with a search engine that returns results that are accurate, reliable, safe, and understandable. Instead of having students sift through millions of websites, the research experts, educators, and librarians at Dulcinea have created a database of tens of thousands of sites that students have access to in their searches. As a result, SweetSearch excludes results from unreliable sites that might rank high in other search engines.  This allows  students to choose the most relevant result from a list of credible returns, rather than having  educational time wasted on unreliable sites. Since Sweetsearch is powered by Google, it does allow the ability to toggle results between Google and Sweetsearch. Read more about using the Advanced Search at 21centuryedtech.

WolframAlpha – Computational – Google is best termed an informational search engine… its strength is looking for facts and information. There are also data based search engines, by now you may know that I am referring to Wolfram Alpha.  This search engine claims, “to bring broad, deep, expert knowledge to everyone… anytime, anywhere!”. They further state, “We aim to collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model, method, and algorithm; and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything. Our goal is to build on the achievements of science and other systematization of knowledge to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries.”

Google Custom Search – Individualized – This  is a unique way to curate and archive sites for students and still require them to practice good searching techniques. Many times as teachers we find our students trying to maneuver their way through  the internet jungle often finding sites they cannot understand, are not reliable/credible, or do not apply. As educators, we must help teach our students how to both search and evaluate resources they find.  Many times it seems more efficient to just hand out the links. What might it be like if we still controlled the links, but students still had to search? This is the whole idea behind a Google Custom Search!  It is also easy to learn, takes very little time,  and best of all… free. It also allows the teacher to have a listing of those very best websites in designated areas. You can make as many Custom Search Engines as you wish. All you need is a Google account.
To get started visit the Google Custom Search Engine  Page. Here you can either sign in or if you do not have a Google account… sign up. After doing this you are ready. To create a custom search engine from scratch, you’ll need to define a name and description, and add some sites to search. Make sure you have thought this out and have those sites in mind.

Twitter Advanced Search – Social Media Search – This Twitter Search Page is valuable when showing teachers great ways to collect learning resources.  Many times after using, they are excited to sign up for their own Twitter account.  Using Twitter can have its challenges. With the Twitter Search Page, it may now be possible because no log in or account set up is required. It could be great in finding facts and information. It can also be used with current events or an unraveling news story. Most of all, it can show students the power and educational benefits of social media. As always… before using with students consult your district AUP, Terms Of Use, and check with district administration.  As in using any web application, students should be trained on proper digital citizenship and monitoring of students is essential. Read more about the Twitter Advanced Search at  21centuryedtech.

Some sites help with student inquiry and searching skills

Part Three….  After the Search… Website Evaluation

Do you want to learn more about how students can evaluate websites? Then visit the below links to articles that explain my A-G steps.

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