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?
How do we get free access to Net Trekker from the Michigan’s Department of Ed sites? I’ve always been interested in that one, but we don’t have the money to pay a subscription.
I use a lot of the same search engines that you do plus a few others. I like to use fact monster which if put out by Information Please. It does have some advertisement, but not too many and it’s free. I also really like MEL (Michigan E Library). It’s free. This has many databases put out by reputable research companies like Gale. Inside MEL you can find InfoTrac, Kids InfoBits,and Sirs Discoverer.
The Internet Public Library for Kids is a good “kid-friendly” search engine, but also has a great feature that allows students to submit a form for asking a question. It is found at http://www.ipl.org/div/kidspace/ Look for Ask A Question on the left.
Kristin: If you go to Michigan Learnport and sign up for an account (it’s free for Michigan educators), you should be able to access Net Trekker through that site. (learnport.org)
Judi: I completely forgot about the IPL for Kids. Thanks for the reminder!
Is there any way to use the “free” access to NetTrekker with kids in the lab or is this just a resource for teachers through Learnport? I love ease of the reader on the NetTrekker site and how it can be used on any of the websites you go to through NetTrekker.
Ben, please check a very interesting feature that Quintura for Kids has. You can easily embed this kid-friendly search engine onto your blog by clicking Embed it! on http://kids.quintura.com and copying & pasting the embed code in the sidebar onto your blog.
Yakov: Oh man, now you really have me sold on Quintura, that sounds awesome!
Kirstin: I believe that the Net Trekker account through Michigan Learnport is just a personal use account, for you to research with, but I wouldn’t see any problem with you logging into one of the machines in your classroom and letting students use it.
Our district has an encompassing license for Nettrekker. I can see where an elementary teacher would find it very appealing. I figured that at middle school the more public search engines would be the choice among staff, but…..a recent survey found that about 6 (of our 45) teachers were using it quite a bit. When I asked, the main feature they liked was being able to save resources on line so that students could log in and click on sites rather than typing stuff up.
I was a little disheartened, as we have ways for teachers to make web pages to do the same thing….but it’s a little more complicated…and I consider web pages to be a much broader skill. I plan to encourage them to learn about making simple pages, but don’t wish to “discourage” their using a free resource. But at middle school, I think we should be teaching kids on the regular search engines they will continue to use, but teachers find NT easy.
The State Library System for Alaska also subscribes to a series of databases (Ebsco, World Book, and others) and I DO encourage them to make use of that, as database skill is a thing on its own, but it doesn’t have the teacher tools.
I like google’s option to roll your own search engine. You decide what sites it searches. It’s a pretty quick and easy way to make sure they have access to what you want while still letting them work on their “real life” search skills. The best of both worlds in my mind.
It’s really easy to do and keeps things a step above what AndyAK’s talking about with the pages.
I’ve heard of “rolling your own search engine” before (specifically on a site called rollyo.com), but have never done it. That’s the beauty of Net Trekker, or some other kid-friendly search engine. All of the results are tailored for them, but at the same time, I will often receive no results from a more focused search, forcing me to go to the “adult” search engines.
I would definitely hop onboard what Andy’s talking about, as it would more closely mimic traditional search methods (so it pulls in teachers that complain about students just using Google), and also provides a way for students to understand that databases are tools; they’re only as good as the type of content in them.
You’ve got an excellent blog here. Good work. I just wanted to chime in on the search engine question as it relates to education. There are lots of great search sites out there, but for high school kids looking for a fresh perspective on colleges, universities, career schools, trade schools, or even online schools, the best ones I’ve found are CollegeSource, and CampusExplorer. Both offer tons of important data on a wide variety of institutions and programs, but also present it in an easy to digest way, with some favorable features and applications plugged into the process along the way. I’m a big fan of good directory/search sites that provide the double whammy: valuable content and enjoyable experience. Check out CollegeSource and CampusExplorer if you’re looking for the double whammy…
keep up the good blogging!
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