A few weeks ago during an episode of Two Ed Tech Guys Take Questions and Share Cool Stuff I shared a little story from earlier that day in my classroom. The story provides a good reminder of why we should review search strategies every fall even if we think our students have “done it before.”
Here’s the story, one of my comp sci students was looking for an image to use in a little project that he’s working on. I told the class to use Pixabay or Unsplash to find the images they needed. Unfortunately for this student there really wasn’t an image that met his needs available on either of those sites. So I told him he could look on Google Images if he refined the search according to usage rights. Seeing how that could be done was his first “whoa!” moment. The second “whoa!” came a few minutes later when I showed him that he could refine the search according to file type to find PNG files without having to manually look through the results. His third “whoa!” was let out when he realized that he could search by file type to find PowerPoint presentations.
Search by File Type
Due to the way that Google’s search algorithm works PDFs, Word docs, and PowerPoint files typically don’t rank high enough in search results for students to notice them. That doesn’t mean those files don’t have great information for students. For that reason, I encourage students to refine search results to display just PDFs or just Word documents and then use Control+F (on Windows keyboards) or Command+F (on Mac keyboards) to search within those documents. This video shows you how to search by file type.
Search by Date
Particularly in science and social studies, but also in other areas it can be important to make sure that students are looking at current information. Refining search results according to date or range of dates can put the most recently published information closer to the top of the results. The one caveat to that is some websites don’t accurately date information (sometimes intentionally). A similar thing can be done with YouTube results. Watch this video to see how that’s done.
Search by Domain
Filtering searches to only display results from a specific country-level domain can be a good way for students to find regional or national differences in the way that a topic or event is reported. If you’re in the United States, you can have your students refine their searches to display results from .k12 domains (examples: .k12.me.us and .k12.tx.us). Those results will show just information posted on public school websites including teacher-managed pages within a school district. Here’s a video on how that is done.
All of these search methods and many more are explained in my online course, Ten Search Strategies Students Need to Know.
Elementary school teachers may want to consider creating a custom search engine in which students can practice the strategies listed above. Doing this let’s you specify and control the pages that appear in your students’ search results. Here’s a little video on how to create a custom search engine. It’s a lot easier than it sounds!