Learning How to Search

One of the things that shocks me with each new group of students is the lack of ability to search the web for information. I’m sure this is widespread and not limited to 5th graders at my school. This is a problem that stems from a few causes. First, a lot of the information given by Google is written above reading level for many of my students. The students lack the ability to scan for relevance and judge whether a website is appropriate for answering their question. Second, I think it has a little bit to do with laziness. I can’t count the number of times a student has said they can’t find the information. Even on websites that I have selected and are grade appropriate, the students do not read the information. They look for the answer at the top of the page. If the answer isn’t flashing and in big bold letters, they assume it is not on the page. With some prodding and pushing, they eventually give in and start reading. The third reason I think they struggle with this is that it is not modeled for them by teachers.

Anyone reading this will know how to find the information they need, but think of your colleagues. How many of them do not understand how to do a basic search for information? For example, my classroom has 10 student computers, so I use a lot of various web-based games to support our math curriculum. Every new game I find, I email it out to our staff. There is usually a couple of “thank you” emails, but the majority is “how do you find this stuff?”. We have teachers that don’t understand how to find information on the Internet. It is hard for me to believe, but it’s true.

Anyway, something I’m going to try is posting 10 questions that can be found using tools found on the Internet. My objective is to get the students familiar with the tools available. Here are a few examples of questions I’m going to use:

  • What is the capital of Sweden?
  • What is the weather forecast for Portland on Friday?
  • Convert 14 cm to inches.

A few of my colleagues will tell the students to grab an encyclopedia or a calculator, but is that what we need to teach our students? We have these tools, when and how do we teach them? I’m going to try 5th grade and in this manner. I’d love to know how other teachers attack this problem.

Update: On second thought, do questions like these help reinforce the belief that finding information online is easy and doesn’t take a little bit of work?

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