Engaging a Gaggle of Googlers

So I stole the title from my #VSS2010 presentation, but it is catchy! (credits go to @dcmcgeary and my husband for helping me come up with it)

The presentation was about information literacy, which I have to be honest, when I first heard about it thought… ugh what a snooze (hence why my presentation is not called “Information Literacy for Students” or something like that) . However, when I started doing my research in order to put my presentation together I realized that it is a really important topic.

Essentially information literacy is the ability to access, evaluate, and create information. What this boils down to is that we have to teach our students how to effectively use google (or any other search engine but yes I am preferential to google) to search for information, how to evaluate the results of that search to make sure that the information they are finding is valid, and then how to take that information and create something new and unique, to add to the experience and journey of other’s.

NASA discovers bacteria that incorporate Arsenic (a poison) into their DNA

From everything that I have learned about information literacy over the past few months of researching for my presentation I have come to realize one thing. This is a topic we cannot afford to ignore if we want to be creating productive citizens from our schools. Here is what I mean, and if you saw my presentation forgive me for repeating myself. As a biology teacher I have the unique perspective of knowing that all of the “facts” that I teach my kids are likely to be declared obsolete before the students graduate, and possibly are already obsolete before I even teach it to them. Is this because I’m a lazy teacher and don’t make sure that I’m teaching the correct information? No, I do my resarch, I’m very well read in my subject area, however the pace of discovery is astounding in the biological (and other) sciences.

Just recently I had to come back to my students and apologize for teaching them that lysosomes were only found in animal cells because recently researchers have discovered them in some plant cells as well. Many of my students were way ahead of me and had seen that in their research for their cell analogy projects that they had turned in the week before. I’m glad the students were able to say “yeah miss, we saw that in our research” because that meant that they had actually dont the research, but on the other hand not a single student questioned me about it. I can, and will, take that two ways. 1) they didn’t remember I had said it or 2) they weren’t paying attention to me in class when I said it.

Advanced Search on Google: Make your searches more specific

Advanced Search on Google: Make your searches more specific

How many of us have decided that kids are less and less well behaved in the classroom, and seem to pay attention in class less and less? Can you blame them when we are teaching to a model that no longer fits with the way that they learn? Our students are raised in an environment of instant information where they are the gatekeepers to their own knowledge. In the classroom the teacher is the gatekeeper and parses out information as if bestowing a gift (ha!). Instead of teaching facts to students, which is a part of the old model, we should be teaching skills, concepts, ways of thinking. I’m not advocating a fact-less education, as that would be basically impossible, and there are definitely lots of things, facts, that are not going to become obsolete any time soon, if ever. However we do our students a disservice if we do not teach them HOW to find, evaluate, and synthesize information on their own.

One of the first things that students need to learn is the basics of a good google search. Filtering out information that is unnecessary or irrelevant is a big step in the right direction. Here are a couple of basic search operators (replace term with the search phrase you are using)

  • Define: term– this will produce a definition (or multiple definitions from various sites) for the search term you have input
  • term OR term– this will provide you with results from either search term (but not both)
  • “term” – this will provide you with results that contain the EXACT phrase found within the quotation marks. Very useful if you are trying to check for plagiarism!
  • search phrase -term this will provide you with results that do not include the term with the (-) attached to it (leave off the space after the dash)
  • *– google calls this the “fill in the blanks” operator, you may (or may not) have heard it called a “boolean operator”. Basically input the * in place of any word in a search phrase and it will return results with a variety of terms substituted in.
  • Everything: By default, your Google search will show unfiltered results that can include all the types of content below.
  • Images: See only results from Google Images.
  • News: See only results from Google News.
  • Books: See only results from Google Books including reviews, excerpts, and where you can buy the book.
  • Videos: See only results from Google Videos and YouTube.
  • Blogs: See only results from Google Blog Search.
  • Places: See only results from Google Place Pages.
  • Shopping: See only results from Google Product Search. (With this option, you’ll see results within the Product Search site rather than in a Google search results page.)
  • Realtime: See only real-time updates from micro-blogs like Twitter, FriendFeed, Jaiku and others. Learn more about Google real-time search.
  • Discussions: See what people are saying in discussion groups, forums, and question-and-answer sites.

there are a variety of other operators or advanced search options to choose from, do a quick google search for “advanced search options” and you will find not only a google article, but many websites and videos with tips.

Well this is the first in my series on improving the information literacy of your students, in following posts we will discuss ways for them to validate their sources, as well as ways to take the new information they find and create something to further someone else’s information journey.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a very Happy New Year to all!

*Note: Google has recently added a feature that allows you to view the reading level of your search results – it’s found in the advanced search box and there are only three levels, basic, intermediate, and advanced, but hey it’s a start! If you are searching for introductory information for your kiddos you may want to select basic or perhaps intermediate.

*Update 12/22 – check out this website (The Google Guide) for even more information on Google skills! It has options for Teens, Novices, and Experts to get started learning more!

5 responses to this post.

  1. The OR operator in Google is inclusive, not exclusive. So Term1 OR Term2 will indeed return hits that match both searches.

    “*” is a wildcard operator. “AND” and “OR” are Boolean operators.

    It would be good to teach kids to use the “site:” restriction in Google (it allows you to search a site using Google instead of whatever broken search engine the site provides).

    provides a nice overview of the Google search modifiers


    • I stand corrected on the Boolean issue, and I guess I was unclear on the “OR” search – I mean that it will return hits on both terms, just not in the same results (meaning if I searched Chrome OR Android I would get results matching either of the terms individually but not both simultaneously (for example I would not get a result comparing the two)

      And I can’t believe I forgot the “site:” tool! I meant to include that one as it is very useful.


      • You are still wrong. If you search
        chrome or android
        you will definitely get results that include both “chrome” and “android”.

      • Imagine using the power of discussions like this to make sure that our students truly understand their material!

        To summarize the snippet I stole below, apparently the OR operator will provide you search results for either one term OR the other OR both. If I simply searched “android or (lowercase) chrome” I would only get back search results that included both, much as if I had searched “android chrome” or “android AND chrome”. So I stand corrected, and now better understanding of my material!

        the OR and | Operators

        Specify synonyms or alternative forms with an uppercase OR or | (vertical bar).

        The OR operator, for which you may also use | (vertical bar), applies to the search terms immediately adjacent to it. The first and second examples will find pages that include either “Tahiti” or “Hawaii” or both terms, but not pages that contain neither “Tahiti” nor “Hawaii.” The third and fourth examples will find pages that contain any one, two, or all three of the terms “blouse,” “shirt,” and “chemise.”

        [ Tahiti OR Hawaii ]
        [ Tahiti | Hawaii ]
        [ blouse OR shirt OR chemise ]
        [ blouse | shirt | chemise ]
        Note: If you write OR with a lowercase “o” or a lowercase “r” Google interprets the word as a search term instead of an operator.

        Note: Unlike OR, a | (vertical bar) need not be surrounded by spaces.

        [ bicycle|cycle ]
        Use quotes (“ ”) to group compound words and phrases together.

        [ filter OR stop “junk email“ OR spam ]
        [ “New Zealand“ OR “Ivory Coast“ holiday OR vacation package ]

  2. I attended a Google Search class by Dan Russell, a project manager at Google and uber search expert, this past summer. He presented the group with a series of search challenges that got progressively more difficult. Eventually he stumped everyone. What I learned is that finding information is easy when you know what you are searching for but infinitely more difficult when you’re searching for an unknown. Dan has some nice examples on his blog: http://searchresearch1.blogspot.com/


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