Saturday, November 6, 2010

Google doesn't speak English

Before fall break, a teacher came up to me and said some of my favorite words (other than, "Go home, take the day off, you deserve it!"). He said, "Hey, I'd really love some help with integrating technology, especially now that I have the new Activboard. Can you help me sometime?" Yes, yes!!! :-) This is one of my favorite things to do at school. [Note that I didn't say one of my favorite things is to FIX technology.]

After a brief discussion with him, we established that he'd like to start with doing web research with his 5th graders. This was an excellent place to start, because I was planning on doing the same thing with my 7th graders in the coming weeks. So, last week, when the internet was down at school and the battery on my laptop was dead, I hand-wrote my lesson plan for the first time ever. (It bites, because my handwriting is awful and I'm not good at visually organizing information on paper.) But, all in all, it was a good start.

Yesterday morning, it was time to put the rubber to the road and I went over to work with the 5th graders. Since I had previously come in and seen some of their projects on Native Americans, I started with that topic. First, I had them close the laptops, and then take out their textbooks. (Sometimes you have to go back in time to make current technology make sense.) After we established a research question, "Why did the Iroquois build longhouses?" I had them look it up under W for Why (according to a suggestion by a student, which is what I was hoping someone would say :-)) Needless to say, it took about 15 seconds for them to realize that wasn't going to work. So then, we narrowed it down to keywords (Iroquois, longhouse, why) and I had students come highlight them on the Activboard. They looked up those keywords and came up with much more information.

From there, we addressed the fact that Google is basically an index, and you have to search in keywords, just like you do in an index. Additionally, I tried to emphasize that Google doesn't speak English, so complete sentences are irrelevant, because it looks up every single web page with all of the words you searched (including every page with Why, every page with The, etc.) That brought us to searching the keywords in the question, and then refining the search with other synonyms for better results (why, cause, reason, etc.). I also made sure to emphasize that the more accurate keywords you use, the more you'll narrow down your search results (referencing the number of results Google found).

Once we were clear on that, I had them do a quick 3 question Google Form survey/quiz to determine that we were understanding it, and then reviewed the results together, which show up in a linked Google Spreadsheet in real time. (By the way, Google Forms are the coolest thing ever for that type of instant results without expensive "clicker" systems. It's another option when you create a new item in Google Docs.) Overall, it seemed to work like a charm :-) Hopefully, it'll work that well with 7th graders :-)

I'm planning on going in to the 5th grade class again and reviewing web site quality and reliability next, and then (at least with the 7th graders) we'll talk about Advanced Search options. In the grand scheme of things, this seems like a really little thing to get excited about, but the topic is so crucial, since it's something the kids will use (eventually) multiple times a day, essentially every day of their lives. So, it's exciting seeing them learn a skill that will be so critical down the road. Whether its cool or not, its exciting to be a part of it!

PS: I dressed up as Google for Halloween. White pants and shirt, with Google logo and search bar pinned to my shirt :-)

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