Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Research Mantra: How Do You Make Your Search Smarter?

One of the topics of concern for both technology and library teachers is the way in which our students conduct research online. All too often students and even classroom teachers choose an open Google Search as their first step when looking for information on a topic. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when you combine this with a lack of understanding on how to conduct a web-based search there is the risk that students will get results that may not only be inaccurate but also not appropriate for their age level. Enter Google’s Research Tool for Google Docs and Slides.


In coordination with our two librarians, I put together a mini-lesson that would ask students to access prior knowledge (“What research tools do you have access to here in our library?”) and teach them how to conduct more efficient searches for information on the Internet: (“How do you make your search ‘smarter?'").

Our target audience was third grade who was just beginning their Maine Animal Research Project. I started by giving us a problem to research: “We need a new pair of sneakers, but what kind should we get?” I then threw out different scenarios for how to go about this research and asked the students to evaluate whether or not I was being a “smart” researcher so that they would begin to ask this question over and over again in their minds during the research process.



Once the mantra seemed to take hold, I transitioned to showing students how Google’s Research Tool could help them be a smarter researcher using the Maine Gray Wolf as an example. 

Before I entered any text, we talked about how the different search tools (e.g. images, quotes, dictionary) could make my search smarter. I then introduced the second theme in the lesson: the power of keywords. 

By purposefully only typing in the keyword “wolf” I was able to apply this theme to domain names (“Is a .com more or less trustworthy than a .edu?”), website titles, and the site descriptions. Students were able to eliminate several of the search results almost immediately, saving ourselves time and maintaining our “smarter searchers” label. When we found a site that looked promising, we then used the “preview” button to evaluate the site to see if it was worth our time to investigate, thereby making our search even smarter. 

Finally, I asked the students to brainstorm lists of keywords that I could add to my initial search term “wolf” that would make the Research Tool results even more smart (e.g. wolf habitat, wolf diet, Maine gray wolf). I wrapped up the lesson by showing how to use the “cite” button to begin building they bibliography section of our project, emphasizing the concept that we must always make the effort to give credit to the original author(s) by “citing” our sources.




Classroom teachers were invited to sit in and participate in these lessons. I wanted to ensure that they knew how to access this tool themselves and have an opportunity to connect the themes of my lesson with those they had already introduced back in the classroom. And, because the final product was a Google Slides presentation, the Research Tool was a perfect and welcomed addition to this project. The feedback was so positive in fact that the librarians reached out to our fourth grade teachers, who were getting ready to start their own research projects on national parks. I ended up spending the next week training them to be smarter searchers as well.


Google’s Research Tool can’t do the research for you, but it is a good place to start and an invaluable resource to help students be safer and smarter searchers of the vast and enormous database of information that is the Internet.


Resource Links:




Nick has worked in education for over 13 years at the elementary, middle, and high school levels as a computer technician, technology integrator, and digital literacy teacher. He has a Masters degree in Technology Education, is an authorized Google Education Trainer, and an Apple Certified Trainer. He has worked with a variety of technologies including interactive whiteboards, multimedia creation and editing applications, mobile devices, and an ever-growing list of web 2.0 tools.


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