Every Friday I like to share some resource or thought provoking question with the regulars here on the site. Usually I pull something from the Tech Savvy Ed Forum, but today I wanted to share a concern from one of the teachers in my building. Mr. K is an amazing 4th grade teacher when it comes to using technology in his teaching. He takes his class up to the lab regularly, has his students research websites and resources to use during science or math units, and even found himself quite a nice used Elmo Document Camera on Ebay for his class. Unfortunately, he came into my room today to lament our district’s expired account for Net Trekker D.I.
Thankfully, one of Michigan’s Department of Ed sites gives us access to the Net Trekker D.I. resources for free (which I have yet to tell Mr. K, and should cheer him up a bit). The reason Mr. K enjoyed using it so much is because Net Trekker is a human filtered (employees search through and approve all search results) search engine geared for education. All of the images, websites, and other media have been carefully checked for both usefulness and appropriateness, and then categorized much like Yahooligans used to, by grade level & topics. Quite useful for giving students free reign over their research time. Our district, through the help of some grant money, was paying for a district-wide site license so our students could have a safe place to search while at school.
Of course, Net Trekker D.I. isn’t for everyone (to me, paying for a search engine is a lot like being charged a surtax on the air I breathe). I personally am not a fan of the tightly controlled filtering processes either, especially when other search engines have been stepping up their “safe search” features. In the past I’ve used everything from Yahooligans (which I won’t even provide a link to now because the new version is so awful), Quintura, Kidsclick!, Ask for Kids, and yes, even Google with my more advanced 6th graders. I prefer more open search engines that mimic the type of search engines students already use at home. Granted, most of the kid friendly search engines I listed above use human filtering to weed out potentially harmful sites, but then almost all of the sites above are free too.
That’s right, using a kid-friendly search engines doesn’t mean, and shouldn’t mean, that you have to pay for a subscription, as our school was doing for Net Trekker. I can appreciate a company providing an advertisement free database that is categorized and referenced by subject, readability, and grade level, but don’t those tools just replicate what most teachers should be doing already with online resources? Whenever I put together a Webquest, I make sure to include resources that cover a broad range of reading and comprehension abilities, and I always preview websites that I’m going to use in class to ensure that the students will get what they need to out of a site, without having to struggle or come across inappropriate material. For those reasons, I’m a fan of using a broader range of search engines whenever necessary. I wish I could say I roll with one particular search engine with all of my students, but I don’t. Different situations call for different tools; much like the databases in phonebooks, Infotrack, and Wikipedia are all used for different purposes.
What search engine do your students roll with?