Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Oh the places Google will take you...

Since I'll be at a conference for most of this week, the few 7th graders I did see spent their class period this week doing a Google scavenger hunt I compiled from a few sources. Its meant to have them practice the search skills we've discussed all year (use keywords, choose reliable sites, use multiple sources, etc.) However, as I was putting the scavenger hunt together, I ran across Google's search features page, which describes many of the reference-type features Google has integrated into their search results. For example, if you want to know the score of your favorite basketball team's last game, you simply type in the name of the team, and the score appears at the top of the search results; you don't even have to go to a website. (See below.) It was good practice and the kids enjoyed seeing that Google will do math for you, tell you stock prices, and even offer it's best guess.

The "best guess" feature was something I'd never seen on Google before. I was quite interested to see that if you type in a fairly generic question/keywords, Google will offer it's best guess. Basically, it takes several of the top hits and combines their answers into one obvious answer posted at the top of the page. For example, if you type in "length of Mississippi River," it offers it's best guess as 2,320 miles, based on information from National Parks Service, Wikipedia and others. (See below.) I especially like that it tells you where it's taking it's information from. (This helps my students learn what is and isn't a trustworthy source.) This particular feature seems to have been rolled out with absolutely zero fanfare, as I can't find anything online about it, but I like it so far! :-)

As my students were discovering all the cool things Google can do, I noticed a student struggling with the first answer. The problem wasn't difficult, but he is a special education student who I knew was going to spend the entire class trying to remember the first four letters of the answer while he clicked back and forth between tabs. So, I taught him how to copy and paste.

Some teachers would totally cringe at this thought, since they think all students will begin copying everything from the internet. However, I knew this student 1) was too sweet to even think of doing that, and 2) needed it too badly not to teach it to him. When I showed him, he was blown away! Changed his world. He was so excited that he literally came back after class to ask for the link to the scavenger hunt so he could finish it on his own time! How often do kids come back asking for more work?? As he left class, he offered to show his teacher how to do it (who doesn't know how!) :-) [Another skill that falls into this category is the "search" function available on any webpage. This saves SPED and ELL kids from thinking they have to read and understand every word on a webpage to find the answer.]

Too often in education we assess students on something that isn't what we actually need them to know. For example, oftentimes word problems end up testing a student's reading ability, more than their skill at adding fractions. In this case, I would have thought the student didn't know how to use Google, given that he only would have answered a few questions. However, offering one simple skill enabled him to focus on the content. Not only that, but he was able to enjoy the content as well.

[More on tech adaptations for SPED and ELL students] 

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