Search & Education

birdsGoogle’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. They do this by indexing billions of pages of online content, in all kinds and formats and forms, and currently working on inputting and indexing billions of offline content as well, including magazines, books, scholarly articles, and so on. The end goal is to allow you the user in the classroom to find information and to make use of it in an important way.

The spokesman for this webinar is Dan Russell, who works alongside Kathleen Ferenz, Cheryl Davis, and Lucy Gray as Google certified teachers in charge of Google Search Quality and user happiness. They have assembled the resources necessary for this webinar.

The state of being able to search for information on the internet is free, its out there, anyone can use it. But not everyone is equally good at using a search engine. This is why a main portion of what Google has researched is the way in which people do research. Google has discovered that there is a large divide between how people search for things on the internet, therefore Google wants to give its users the tools to be a better searcher in order to bridge this digital divide.

The first step toward bridging this digital divide is to cultivate the way in which people think about search. Since Google is an entirely digital resource, the old way people used to approach searching will not work the same, so we need to translate this culture from the way people think about search naively to the way we want to think about search going forward. People have to be able to validate soft information, find information in new ‘hot’ channels, understand the current culture of informal language, as opposed to those who cannot, or don’t attempt to. In fact, the online world has entirely transformed cultural literacy and the nature of education in general, but that is beyond the scope of this webinar.

To cultivate the way in which people think about search is for students and teachers to develop a research stance. When confronted with new information students should ask, “How can I frame this as a question that I want to understand?” A good learner is always asking questions, pursuing that meta-cognitive right to understand a material better. For example: A student is studying in an 8th grade biology class about Lake Tahoe in California. What questions should he be asking? How should he research that? How can he find out the needed information to augment his learning? Teachers need to teach an attitude of research to their students. This is an attitude that transcends the technology they will use in the classroom today. Eleven years ago Google didn’t exist. Eleven years from now it will be a whole new universe out there. The only way to continue learning through research is to constantly learn more about how to research. Students need to take a stance that says “I constantly have to change my understanding,” since nothing stays constant on the web, content is always changing, search engines improve on a continual basis, and companies are constantly creating new tools for searching. Plan on learning new skills on a continual basis. It is a research learning lifestyle.

Search Basics: Anatomy of a Search Engine Results Page

All search engines make money by advertising. Therefore, it is important to distinguish the advertisements from the search results. The portion directly below the search bar with a yellow background are ads, called the top ads. On the right hand side there will be a line of ads as well. They are labeled as ‘Sponsored Links.’ Google will usually pull up local results relating to your search query, called local results. It is important to know these are not ads, but rather a helpful tool that connects with Google Maps to aid in the search process.

Anatomy of Search ResultsThe main body of the search results page will be the actual search results. The title of each hit will be underlined in blue bold letters. Beneath that is a brief snippet of black text from the webpage containing the keywords. Below that is the actual URL address in green.

An important feature Google has are called Oneboxes. These are features that display within the organic search results that are special to the query. It will be accompanied with an icon on the left to indicate that it is a special piece of information.

On the top of the search results there will be a plus sign next to the text ‘Show options.’ This will pull up a new row on the left. This is called the tool belt options view. This has filter options to choose from, such as when information was posted, or to change the way in which the information is presented to you. This includes choosing what kind of information you are looking for, whether it be images, videos, news, shopping, and more.

To the right of the search bar there is a SafeSearch option that ranges from Off, Moderate, or Strict. This is very important when searching for pictures and when younger students are learning about search.

Now, once the search results have populated from a specific query the task is to narrow the search results even further. If there is a specific word you or your students wish to find use the find command. Every browser has a find command, or simply click Control-F (Command-F on Macs). This is essential and will save a huge amount of time.

Search Strategies – How to organize your search

Students tend to think of Google as immediate information. Not really. When creating a query we need to think of some guiding questions. What am I looking for? How would someone else put it in writing? What words would they use? Also think about common terms. Which of those terms would be specialized to this topic? For example, when searching for ‘orbit,’ are you looking for a planet’s orbit or the brand of Orbit gum? What search result would make you most happy? Are you trying to narrow down the search to one web page, a definition, an image? If it is a complex and/or very specific question that contain multiple parts or ideas to it, make sure to break it down into pieces, and then follow up on those pieces individually. You cannot put in too many words or the search results will either be too copious to be of use or so narrow that nothing of use will appear. The query needs to be specific. As a general rule keep queries under five words.

StepsWhen choosing your search keywords don’t forget to think of possible synonyms. Pig, sheep, cow, and deer will give very different results than pork, mutton, beef, and venison. The idea is to think about how else you could describe something. What would it be called? You are trying to solve a problem; you are looking for a word that describes a concept and you don’t know what it is. At this point, reading through snippets of information and double-checking are very important skills for the researcher. Students must be able to pick out a small bit of information out of the large quantity of information available. Remember, not every result will have the correct information you need. It takes discernment to filter out unneeded or faulty content.

Remember, Google has many different kinds of content: news, images, videos, patents, scholarly articles, products, maps, etc. Using certain context words will help to narrow the search significantly to get the results you need. There are certain terms called specifiers that will predictably get certain results. ‘Wikipedia’ will bring Wikipedia articles to the front. ‘Review’ is to find reviews of products, books, and movies. ‘Forum’ will bring up online discussions between people on a given topic. Other specifiers are overview, example, blog, tutorial, diagram, workbook, help, documentation, instruction, FAQ, and DIY (do it yourself).

There are many strategies to tweak your search. Start simple. Use words you know are correct. Learn from what you see on the results page and the pages you visit. Do not get stuck on a particular word or phrase. If you’re not making progress, re-think the terms you’re using, or perhaps rearrange the word order. If you are looking for a particular sequence of words use quotes to receive results of that exact sequence. When searching for common phrases, don’t leave out the common words, because that affects word order.

This summarizes into three things called the art of keyword choice.

  1. Think about what you want to find.
  2. Choose words you think will appear on the page.
  3. Put yourself in the mindset of the author of those words.

Search Features

Resources for Further Search skills Google Search Curriculum – These materials have been made with the teacher in mind, for teachers to use in the classroom. Nine web search lesson plans for the teacher to look through. This includes an advanced lesson featuring the Validate the Authority Google presentation. This introduces students to the concept and skills of validating the authority of a web page. This is a crucial skill to be a literate user of the web. These are mostly geared toward high school, but teachers can start modeling these skills for their students as early as fourth grade.

Back to School Study Tips – Tips about other Google features, such as Google Books, scholarly articles, multiple languages, and other more specific search results options.

Explore Google Search Page – This is an overview of the many search features available. These are constantly updating. The only way to keep up with the most current search or onebox features is to check the Google blog, the Google search tips, or other search related blogs. This is useful for definitions, converting units of currency or measurment, calculations, weather forecasts, movie times, and so on.


The overarching goal of Google is to empower students and teachers develop a research stance. Let it affect the way you research. Help research to be a part of everything you do in a classroom. Teach this attitude to your students. Plan on learning new skills along the way for nothing stays constant on the web. Google is something quick and modular, so that no matter what you are doing in class you are able to find any little piece of information that you can grasp and use to move the knowledge of students forward. Even tech savvy students will approach search as if it is a one step process, but end up very frustrated with the results. Teaching students how to strategize search is an important process. It is a problem solving skill to navigate through the vast array of information.

PDF: Search & Education

Dan Petrovic, the managing director of DEJAN, is Australia’s best-known name in the field of search engine optimisation. Dan is a web author, innovator and a highly regarded search industry event speaker.

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