10 Common Challenges We’ll Face This Fall – Challenge #4: Helping Students Research and Organize

One of my most popular presentations, the one that I’m most frequently asked to give, is 10 Common Challenges Facing Educators. When giving this presentation I outline challenges that classroom teachers often face and present some resources and strategies for addressing those challenges. In preparation for the new school year I’ve created a series of blog posts based on my presentation. Today’s post is about helping students search more effectively and organize what they find.

About Wikipedia

Whether you love it or hate it, your students are going to look at Wikipedia. Yes, even if you tell them not to or have your school Internet filter block it, they will use it. Rather than fight them every step of the way try showing them how they can use Wikipedia effectively to start an investigation into a topic. There are two tools that can help students narrow their investigations from a broad topic like “fishing” to “Atlantic fisheries management.” Wiki Mind Map and Wiki Summarizer both do a good job of helping visitors narrow searches from a broad topic to a narrow topic.

Google and other public search engines
Give a student almost any type of research assignment and he or she will almost always head straight to Google. If they’re not properly introduced to Google’s advanced search tools like limiting searches to a domain or limiting searches by usage rights, then they’re not getting the best possible results. To help you help your students make better use of Google search, I’ve created the short tutorial that you see below.

Wolfram Alpha, the computational search engine, is not one that I personally use frequently because the type of content I’m typically searching for isn’t often found in Wolfram Alpha. You see Wolfram Alpha is focused on content that is numerical in nature. Although it is also very handy for pulling up a quick fact sheet about a country or political leader. For a demonstration of Wolfram Alpha try searching for Mount Everest then after that fact sheet is generated search “Mount Everest to K2” and see how the numerical nature of Wolfram Alpha shines. Or try typing an equation to see the result. To compare Google results with Wolfram Alpha results give Goofram a try.

Sweet Search is a search engine designed for students. The links in Sweet Search are reviewed for appropriateness for school settings. Sweet Search 4 Me is a version of Sweet Search designed for elementary school students.

If you really want to narrow down your students’ search options you can create your own search engine using Google Custom Search. When you create your custom search engine you specify the websites that you want to appear in the search results. Then when students use your search engine you know that the only links they will find are to sites that you have specified. You can learn how to create your own search engine in the tutorial below.

Keeping track of links
The “old” way of keeping track of the useful things you find online is to bookmark them in your browser. There are three problems with that. First, you can only access those bookmarks from that one computer. Second, it is difficult (if not impossible in some cases) to attach a note to that bookmark to remind yourself why you bookmarked that link in the first place. Third, it is difficult to share bookmarks that are married to the browser on your computer.

Introduce your students to tools like Diigo, Google Bookmarks, and YoLink for bookmarking the links they find useful while researching a topic. With all three of these tools (and countless similar services) they can not only bookmark a link that they can access from any computer they can also make notes about why they bookmarked that link. In the case of YoLink students can even send their links directly to a Google Documents document. All three services allow students working on group projects to easily share bookmarks and their attached notes with each other.

This is part four of a ten part series of posts about common challenges facing educators. If you’re interested in having me speak about this topic or others at your school or conference, please contact me through the Work With Me page.


Thank You Readers for 14 Amazing Years!