Test your search skills: A Google a day

A Google a Day

Whether we like it or not, for many students (and adults) the first step in any research task is to visit Google. There are many great resources that can be used to teach students about creating more specific, powerful searches, such as Google Inside Search which guides you through some advanced search functions.

Once students read these tips, they need some way to apply their knowledge to specific tasks. The website A Google a Day provides a question each day which can be solved using a search engine.  A timer runs while you search for the solution, and you can also click on a series of clues which will step you through the search process. For those who are completely stumped, the answer can be provided along with an explanation of how to find it online. The questions can vary in quality, but there are enough good ones in the archive to test out your searching skills.  Click the arrows at the bottom of the frame to see previous questions.

Interestingly, one of the problems with the site comes due to its popularity. You’ll often find that when you search for older answers the top results will be pages linking to blogs about A Google a Day. This might lead to a discussion about how search engines like Google actually index the web.  One possible solution might be to develop your own questions for students to solve. Have a read through the archive to get some ideas about what works and which questions are less effective.

Kids Search: the posters

The prolific and sharing guru that is Joyce Valenza has created two posters to publicise tools that students can use to search the internet. A great idea as there’s much more than just the basic Google search available, although many students might not believe that!

This first poster is for Secondary students; alerting them to the different tools and options that Google provides.

Joyce's poster 1

The second poster is for Primary students and aims to highlight the incredible number of options available to them. Perhaps not all tools are available in your school, but the concept behind the poster is more than useful.

Joyce's poster 2

Thanks to Joyce for her valuable work and her willingness to share, as always.

Free Technology for Teachers

Uberblogger Richard Byrne has the most amazing site for teachers wishing to integrate technology into learning and teaching. The Free Technology for Teachers  blog has won numerous awards and has a huge following.

Featuring guides such as Free Guide to Technology Integration (that explains how to create documents and presentations; tools to improve communication between schools and parents; tools for student collaborative projects and alternatives to YouTube) and Beyond Google (“fifteen tools and strategies to help your students (and colleagues) to explore the web beyond the first two pages of Google results”) as well as informative posts on items such as:

1. 30+ Alternatives to YouTube
2. Twelve Essentials for Technology Integration
3. Seven Ways to Find Teachers on Twitter
4. 10 Places to Make and Find Flashcards
5. 35+ Educational Games and Games Resources
6. Ten Grammar Games and Lesson Resources
7. Ten Spelling Games and Lessons
8. 9 Resources for Website Evaluation Lessons
9. Netbook vs. Cheap Notebook Decision
10. Four Free Tools for Creating Screencasts
11. Great Timeline Builders

Free Technology for Teachers is a must-subscribe-to blog. Richard provides some more information for readers:

The purpose of this site is to share information about free resources that teachers can use in their classrooms.

In 2008 Free Technology for Teachers was awarded the Edublogs Award for “Best Resource Sharing Blog.”

In 2009 Free Technology for Teachers was again awarded the Edublogs Award for “Best Resource Sharing Blog” and was awarded the Edublogs Award for “Best Individual Blog.”

Free Technology for Teachers is read by an audience of more than 15,000 daily subscribers (current as of December 15, 2009).

About the blogger (Richard Byrne):
My full-time job is teaching US History and Civics to high school students at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in South Paris, ME. In the past I have also taught courses in global studies and English/ Language Arts.

I believe that when used correctly, technology has the power to improve student engagement and student achievement. I also believe that technology gives teachers the ability to form powerful, global, professional learning communities.

In 2009 I was nominated for an Edublogs “Lifetime Achievement” Award. I am a Google Certified Teacher.

Congratulations to Richard Byrne on an incredible blog. Great to see that he has been acknowledged for his contribution to professional learning for teachers worldwide.

Google Sidewiki

One new resource that has caused a stir in the last few days is Google’s Sidewiki.  

Sidewiki homepage

Sidewiki homepage

Once Sidewiki is downloaded by a user, it lets them comment on any webpage, with the comments available for anyone to view. Here’s what was published on Google’s Official blog about Sidewiki:

As you browse the web, it’s easy to forget how many people visit the same pages and look for the same information. Whether you’re researching advice on heart disease prevention or looking for museums to visit in New York City, many others have done the same and could have added their knowledge along the way.

What if everyone, from a local expert to a renowned doctor, had an easy way of sharing their insights with you about any page on the web? What if you could add your own insights for others who are passing through?

Now you can. Today, we’re launching Google Sidewiki, which allows you to contribute helpful information next to any webpage. Google Sidewiki appears as a browser sidebar, where you can read and write entries along the side of the page.

Google’s brief video explains more:

 Jeff Jarvis, author of Buzzmachine, isn’t convinced. He says of Sidewiki:

Google is trying to take interactivity away from the source and centralize it. This isn’t like Disqus, which enables me to add comment functionality on my blog. It takes comments away from my blog and puts them on Google. That sets up Google in channel conflict vs me. It robs my site of much of its value (if the real conversation about WWGD? had occurred on Google instead of at Buzzmachine, how does that help me?). On a practical level, only people who use the Google Toolbar will see the comments left using it and so it bifurcates the conversation and puts some of it behind a hedge. Ethically, this is like other services that tried to frame a source’s content or that tried to add advertising to a site via a browser (see the evil Gator, which lost its fight vs publishers).

So this goes contrary to Google’s other services – search, advertising, embeddable content and functionality – that help advantage the edge. This is Google trying to be the center.

Jarvis goes on to report Twitter comments about Sidewiki and his further thoughts:

On Twitter, Google’s Matt Cutts says: “@jeffjarvis points taken, but if it gets larger group of people to write comments on web, that can be good. Plus API allows data to come out” And: “@jeffjarvis and I do see one very nice use case where people can add their comments about scammy sites, e.g. work-at-home scams.”

Points taken as well. It would enable sites without commenting functionality to get comments, including negative comments. In the case of a spam site, OK, that could be useful. But that could also include attacks that one now must monitor (watch out, Google: every story about Israel and race and Obama and health care will attract venom that affects my site but is not under my control).

I don’t think this was done maliciously at all. I think Google didn’t think through the implications.

 Have a look at Sidewiki and decide for yourself. Perhaps only time will tell how people will use this new application.

Wolfram Alpha

Wolfram Alpha has now been launched. What is it? More than just a new search engine, Wolfram Alpha intends to answer your questions rather than direct you to other websites as per other search engines.


Students are bound to latch onto this site quickly as it can answer mathematical equations as well as other school-related questions. Wolfram Alpha acknowledge this and as listed below, they encourage students to acknowledge Wolfram Alpha as a source. 

Wolfram Alpha’s FAQs include:

Education & Research

What educational levels is Wolfram|Alpha suitable for?

Any level, from kindergarten to graduate school and beyond. On the elementary end, Wolfram|Alpha can do arithmetic showing steps, make clocks, work with colors, and so on.

Can I use Wolfram|Alpha to do my homework?

That depends on your teacher. If you do use it, don’t forget to cite it as a source.

Why does Wolfram|Alpha give a different answer from my textbook?

Check to see if your book’s answer appears under “Alternate forms”. It’s pretty common for some forms to look different but be effectively equivalent.

Should I cite Wolfram|Alpha when I use results from it?

Yes. For academic purposes, Wolfram|Alpha is a primary source.

How should I cite results from Wolfram|Alpha?

The citable author is Wolfram|Alpha. Don’t forget to include the time and/or place at which the query was made, as it can affect the result. You can reference results in individual pods by giving their names.

How can I find out what to cite when I use data from Wolfram|Alpha?

Wolfram|Alpha should be considered the source, just as an encyclopedia or other reference would be. If you include the Wolfram|Alpha URL in your document, your readers can go to the “Source information” button to get further references. Note that Wolfram|Alpha often combines and adapts data from multiple sources.

Is the content of Wolfram|Alpha peer reviewed?

Yes, the content is reviewed by domain experts. It is also extensively validated using automated testing. For external data, we strive to use the most reliable sources available.

Can I find out how specific results in Wolfram|Alpha were derived?

Elementary math results often have “Show steps” buttons, and combinations of data have “Details” buttons. “Source information” buttons give information on background sources for external data.

Does Wolfram|Alpha contain “adult content”?

No. It has no adult images or narrative. It gives only factual answers to factual questions.

More information is available in the BBC News item, ‘Web tool as important as Google’.

Perhaps as a result of Wolfram Alpha’s development, Google has announced enhanced search tools.  

Further information about Google’s new search tools is available here.


Snap is a tool that can be used if you have a blog, wiki or other webpage. Snap takes your links and automatically adds visual snap shots of them for your readers.

Snap shots home
Snap shots home

Accounts are free and easy to set up. There are only a couple of steps:

Set up page
Set up page
  • choose the colour for your theme
  • add a logo if you have one
  • select the language you want
  • register
  • copy the code automatically generated to your webpage.

The easiest way to add the Snap code to a WordPress page (including Edublogs and Globalteacher) was to:

  • copy the code given
  • go to widgets
  • add ‘text’
  • save
  • edit ‘text’ and paste the code
  • save.

All of the links, whether they be within posts or not, now appear with a snap shot once a mouse is hovered over it. Snap is a tool that is quick and easy to use and add visual appeal to blogs, wikis and websites. It adds visual information for users as they can see what the website belonging to the link looks like before they decide to visit it.

Snap shots are already used by eBay, Amazon, Google, Flickr, photobucket and Wikipedia. If you decide you don’t want to see Snaps on Bright Ideas, just click the Options icon in the upper right corner of the Snap Shot and opt-out.

Please note that you can also customise the advertising away from what Snap has selected by going to ‘Snap Shares’ within the Snap site and adding your own blog, wiki, etc. URL. And if you have a lot of links on your page, like Bright Ideas, you may find that Snap takes up too much room.

Reading Cafe @ Mill Park Secondary College

Mill Park Secondary College  teacher librarian and ICT Coach Heather Bailie has developed an interesting book blog.

Heather says, ‘The Reading Café  is a site that has been set up directly as a result of the library staff at MPSC completing the SLAV Web 2.0 course. The Reading Cafe is a place for staff to discuss books and reading.  I set this up with a dual purpose:

1.         ‘As a place to consolidate reviews and recommendations for reading by and for staff.  We have many avid readers on staff and we try to cater for their reading, almost as much as the students, particularly through the senior campus fiction collection.  In our busy lives it is not always possible to share our good reading experiences in person- this site aims to provide that experience asynchronously (now there’s a word I’ve only dared use since blogging!)

2.         ‘As a gentle means to encourage other staff to delve into the world of blogs, and, for some, to introduce the concept to them. For many teachers the idea of writing for a blog is totally foreign; they fear the unknown and don’t believe (wrongly) they have the necessary skills.

‘At first there wasn’t a competitive element to this but speaking to an old friend (Melbourne State College 1982!) at a SLAV conference I decided to adopt her idea of a teacher’s reading challenge modelled on the Premier’s Reading Challenge.  I challenged staff to read 6 books by the end of the year, 2 of which must be designated “young adult”.  To record books read they must post a review on the blog or, if that book has been previously reviewed, make a comment on the original post.’

She continues, ‘Initially, to get some content on the site, I encouraged everyone at school who was doing the SLAV Web 2.0 course to post some reviews.  I also selectively invited some other people who I knew would be interested (either from the blogging perspective or as readers) to visit and contribute.  Once we had a body of reviews, about 15, I launched the site at each campus at morning teas hosted by the two campus libraries.  It has certainly generated a lot of interest although perhaps not as much activity as I would like.  I’m starting to hand out some random prizes so there may be more activity soon.  I think that goal 2 has been at least partly achieved – plenty of people look.  I’m very grateful to my wonderful library staff who have enthusiastically posted reviews to the site.  To record people’s progress on the challenge I adopted the SLAV Web 2.0 course idea of using a google spreadsheet  – it is linked from the site.’

Heather says that she will be doing a new year re-launch of the blog shortly. Well done Heather and Mill Park Secondary College staff that have contributed to the blog.


Students are just going to love this Web 2.0 resource! Comiqs lets users create and share their own comics, which can be created by using your own photos, photos from Comiqs’ photo library, or photos from the internet and then adding text. There is also  a privacy option when saving completed comics, so it is ideal for schools. Comics can be published publicly, just for friends or only for you to see.

Students could use Comiqs to create their own stories, but also for school work such as

  • How a science experiment was conducted
  • A book review
  • A review of a school production
  • How to apply a mathematical formula
  • Explain the rules of a sport
  • And many other ideas

In fact, when Google launched their new web browser, Google Chrome, they produced a comic to show people how it worked.

Here is a short example of what can be created in a few minutes. This example was achieved using the Comiqs photo gallery. Comiqs could also be a good holiday boredom buster for the kids.


Hakia is a search engine that prides itself on bringing credible websites to the searcher. Librarians are able to submit websites they wish to recommend to Hakia. By adding non commercial, peer reviewed websites, search results are smaller, but more reliable. Currently the credible searches only cover the topics of health and environment. 

Suggest a credible website

Suggest a credible website

Hakia also has a tool that enables searchers to compare a Google search and a Hakia search side-by-side. Although results can vary depending on the actual search, it’s certainly worth a try.

Hakia and Google compared

Hakia and Google compared

Perhaps we should all consider spending some time to help make Hakia bigger and more popular by submitting credible websites and encouraging students to use Hakia’s search engine. Collectively, we have the power to positively influence the way students do Internet searches.

Search me!

Have you seen this new search engine called Search me? Although it is still being developed, you can select what type of search you want (in this case, the search was for George Clooney.) The offering to select from was: movies, US news, motorcycles, politicians or you can ‘search all’. Your results are then shown as a number of thumbnails (although somewhat larger). To enter the site you like the look of, just click on the ‘thumbnail’.


It would be interesting to do a side by side comparison search with Google and Search me and take note of the difference in results.