To say I’ve had trouble over the past few years putting together a really good lesson about using search engines would be an understatement. It’s a struggle to create a balanced lesson that doesn’t insult the experience the advanced students have with using the web at home and doesn’t fly over the heads of the more novice students. I believe I took a large step in the right direction this past week with the help of an amazingly awesome tool called Boolify. That, and a huge dose of what appeals to every student; subject matter that engages them on their own level.
After the success of the last week, I recognize now that giving students the chance to search for things like haunted houses, movies, and ice cream has helped overcome the cumbersome introduction of “let’s learn search engines, kids” that is usuallly followed with puzzled looks and groans. By choosing the questions carefully (looking for a great ice cream place in Jackson, cheap airline tickets to Disnet World), many of the more advanced kids have a challenge while the amatuer web-searchers have an easy task of picking out keywords. Past years’ efforts have seen me presenting the students with limited lame limited searches about dogs or cats, and with only a handful of search engines. Thankfully, after reviewing the Michigan Educational Technology Standards, I realized that searching lessons can be, and need to be more pratical and like real world searches. Once of our standards even says that students will use the Internet to find answers to everyday questions about entertainment, food, and other interests.
Of couser, I can’t take all of the credit for just paying closer attention to the standards; a huge credit has to go to Boolify, an amazing visual search engine that uses the concept of interlocking puzzle pieces as a metaphor for creating Boolean web searches. Rather than simply having the kids write a few keywords and searches down on paper, they really enjoyed connecting the puzzle pieces with their keywords and Boolean words. Because Boolify is connected to Google, they get to see how many results they would get with their current search (helpful in determining whether the students have created an effective search or not). An added bonus is that I don’t even have to explain what the term Boolean means, and the kids are cleverly having the concept of Boolean search strings implanted in their heads as they manipulate the colorful puzzle shapes. Searches can be saved for later, and terms like NOT and OR can be added to any keyword. There’s even a few resources for using Boolify in the curriculum with links to videos and a few lesson ideas.
After crafting some effective, and safe, searches, I then opened up the activity by letting them try their searches in the “real world”. They got all pumped as we left the sandbox of Boolify and started using real search engines like Google, Yahoo, Ask Kids, and Google Safe Search. And because we had created effective and focused searches using Boolify, all of our searches were kid friendly with no danger of coming across content that would be inappropriate. So far, we’ve spent a week getting used to Boolify, and a week of practicing with the engaging questions I mentioned above. With one more week of practice, I think they’ll be ready to start doing some heavy research for our Kidpedia Project, but more about that at a later time.
Image – http://www.boolify.org/images/boolify_logo.jpg