George Lucas Educational Foundation
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How many times have you encountered this response: I typed it into Google, and really couldn't find anything.


How is this possible? We live in the information age; the age in which information is literally at our fingertips. My mother just came in the kitchen. She was asking me about making poor man's lobster. I asked her what exactly that is.

"Let me find the card with the recipe on it"

Meanwhile I type in "types of poor man's lobster" and find exactly what I am looking for. I find that you can make this recipe with Monkfish, Haddock, and Halibut. Wow. I had no idea. My mom eventually found her recipe card and she was now privy to new information that she did not know a few minutes ago. I was able to filter through the rubbish. If I simply type in poor man's lobster, I might arrive at a Wikipedia hit that only gives me a Monkfish recipe. However, Monkfish is much more expensive than Haddock and Halibut, therefore, knowing how to search can not only expedite your research, but save you money in the kitchen.

Smart Searching with Google

My next question is how do we take the above example and transition it into the classroom? Where does this apply? It is happening every day in project-based learning and various research projects throughout the classrooms of America and abroad. Google has transformed our ability to find information, but it is also given us a variety of ways to filter information far beyond our search criteria.

Let's look at a simple student project involving the novel The Kite Runner and a research question that I gave my students:

What effect does the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan have on family and traditions in Afghani culture?

I wanted my students to use Google, however, I wanted them to use it effectively and efficiently. I could have demonstrated another lesson in developing precise search criteria, however, I decided to delve deeper into the world of Google search options.

This idea came from one of my favorite librarians, Dr. Joyce Valenza. I cannot even utter the phrase "Information Literacy" without evoking her name and her expertise. She was presenting Google Search options at edcamp Philly this past May and suggested many different ways in which teachers and students could work together and make Google more effective for all involved. Her fundamental message was that students need to filter down beyond a typical Google search results and find quality information efficiently. Here is how I prompted them.

Adding Context with Google Timeline

I presented the prompt listed above and told them to begin their search on Google Timeline. This filter allowed my students to trace a specific time period - Soviet occupation of Afghanistan - and filter down credible news articles during this particular period (1979-1989). Students could filter even further and find weekly and daily news articles from various news outlets during this time period. Once students had their articles in hand they could begin reading them or even print them out. Students were now engaged with a historical time period and able to take credible news and information that relates directly to their research question and compare it directly to the reading.

My results were a success. Students were engaged with the news articles and very impressed to see actual, scanned news papers from another time. It brought the reading to life and allowed them to see a real life account of the novel they were reading. After this lesson, I found my students using Google Timeline in other classes and they were able to hear questions outside of my class and apply a skill, a search tool to that question. This is learning. This is information literacy. It is our responsibility as educators to educate students not only on the content but how to filter the content and get to the heart of the question. When we teach students how to seek information correctly and efficiently, we create learning opportunities for life.

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TeacherThink's picture

I am tired of giving a research prompt or topic, walking around and seeing the prompt word-for-word in google. I spend more time teaching skills to manipulate google's results than I do much of the rest of the research process. I wish they figured this out before high school!

Mark Moran's picture
Mark Moran
Founder, SweetSearch

Andrew, this is an excellent example of how a tool other than the standard Google search can be a more rewarding educational experience for students. As Joyce often says, students need to be aware of the full toolkit, and it's more than just Google. We've created an ever-morphing repository of the best advice for teaching Web research skills, broken down into ten simple steps, here:

Dorothy Wawa's picture
Dorothy Wawa
Elementary school art teacher

You are so right. So many of our students do not know how to Google information correctly. In our schools we should have included in the curriculum a lesson that will teach them how to properly conduct research.

Phil's picture
Teacher and Ed-Tech Blogger at

It is amazing how connected our students are but how well they have been trained to always rely upon the teacher for help. I tell my students all the time that I will be most proud of them when they no longer need my help. Google and other search engines can provide so much information but the question is how do they know what is good? This is the role of the teacher, to encourage and facilitate critical thinking. One of my favorite articles of all time is from Wired Magazine and it was entitled "The End of Science" referring to the mountains of data that we are accumulating that our problem is not collection but analyzing.

By fostering an environment where students feel comfortable talking to each other and the teacher, and creating thought provoking questions that go beyond what Google can supply, we can create exciting moments in our classroom.

Jennifer Ham's picture

I agree that many high school students today are not trained to effectively use Internet search engines such as Google. In addition to using other tools of Google, teaching students how to locate other websites with factual information is also a helpful strategy. The fact is many high school students will go to college and need to know how to effectively write papers using legitimate Internet resources. As educators I believe we are responsible to help students learn these skills at all levels of school.

Christina Gonzalez's picture

I had never heard of Google Timeline until I read your blog. What a wonderful search tool! It makes searching and filtering so much easier and precise.
I agree that it is our responsibility as educators to teach our students information literacy. Thank you!

elenimi's picture

Andrew, related to your post, there is a PD webinar tomorrow Monday, Oct 19th 4-5EST on "Information Literacy Across the Curriculum" presented by Kathy Schrock, John Blaser and Eleni Miltsakaki (that's me). I think it might of interest to your readership if you care to share it.

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