Sunday, December 27, 2009

Yes, Benjamin. A Google Robot Really Does Exist

In a recent New York Times article, it was reported that children often are frustrated with their search results on the Internet. The article, Helping Children Find What They Need on the Internet, cited a recent study sponsored by Google, University of Maryland and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. It tells us of 11-year-old Benjamin and his struggles in the use of the Internet to answer the question, "Which day would the vice president’s birthday fall on the next year?" Benjamin later realizes that finding information on the Internet is a multi-step process. But at the time he was fully expecting Google to give him the information immediately.
"...Google has long known that it can be difficult for users to formulate the right keywords to call up their desired results. But that task can be even more challenging for children, given that they do not always have the right context for thinking about a new subject".
As librarians, we are all-too aware of this fact. How many times do we see our students frustrated with their searches simply because they don't know where to begin with search terms, or because they expect the information to appear immediately with very little higher-order thinking on their end. Google's answer to this dilemma is to continue to make the search process more transparent for children and adults alike. Apps such as the Wonder Wheel, make the search more graphical and help the user to narrow-down the results. Google, like other search engines, is also making it easier for searchers to use questions and statements to find answers to questions. Simply enter a sentence with an * where the sought information is, and Google will find your answer.
It seems to me that Google is aiming to do exactly what librarians have been doing all along: helping patrons in their search for answers and information. Of course, we librarians add a very important component: rather than to serve the information on a silver platter for our students, we rather guide them so that they can become better gatherers...better evaluators...and better synthesizers of information. After all, could there by a more important life-long skill than to know how to find valuable information?

That student, Benjamin (who has now learned a thing or two about Internet searching), has an idea about how Google could help students with their searches:
“I think there should be a program where Google asks kids questions about what they’re searching for,” he said, “like a Google robot.”
Hmm...that Google Robot sounds an awful like a librarian to me. And, guess what, Benjamin. One of those librarians is available 24/7 just like Google.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Google Custom Search + Pathfinders = Great Resource

Pathfinders are great resource tools which librarians, such as myself, create for student research projects. They are customized lists of specific sources on a particular unit or subject, consisting of both print and online media. Google Custom Search allows users to pick & choose which websites will be utilized when performing a search. Then, with just one search performance, all sites can be searched at one time. Put the two together, and librarians can provide students with an invaluable, customized research tool.

Recently, I created a Google Customized Search for Literary Criticism and embedded it on my Literary Criticism pathfinder. Now, students who are looking for critical reviews, not only have a list of resources to explore, but they can quickly search through the best, most relevant websites with one, easy search.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Google Books

You probably are familiar with Google Books, but perhaps don't know about all of the terrific tools which Google continues to add.

Did you know:
  • When you perform a general Google search, you can click on "Show options" and you will be given an option to see all the Google Books search results.
  • Many Google Books are available in FULL PREVIEW which means you can look through the entire book, page by page, or by selecting pages from the Table of Contents.
  • You can search for words or terms throughout a Google Book and it will take you to the page with that keyword.
  • In the Preview section, you can embed the book into your website.

  • You or your students can submit a book review into Google Books for others to see.
  • In the Overview section, Google Books provides a Wordle which shows the most commonly used words and phrases in the book.

    • If any geographical places are mentioned in a book, pinpoints are shown on a Google map with reference to where in the book the place is mentioned.

    • You can see where there are references to the book from both Google Books and from Google Scholar.
    • Books which are available to preview can be added to your own library - your library can be shared, searched or followed with an RSS feed.
    • Hyperlinked subjects of books allow you to find similar books to the one you are viewing.
    For complete information on Google Book searches, check out Lucy Gray's presentation which she shared at the Google Teacher Academy in Washington D.C.

    Without a doubt, Google Books is something which will continue to be developed, as well as debated. Just today, MSNBC reported that Google was being sued in Paris for copyright violation. Here in the United States, a fairness hearing is scheduled for February 18 for an amended settlement to a lawsuit from the Author's Guild and publishers.

    Sunday, December 13, 2009

    What Should I Read Next?

    Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

    Google has been improving their search options almost daily and the improvements are exciting! I experienced Google's new Flight Tracker for myself when I needed to check on my husband's flight yesterday. All I needed to do is enter the airline abbreviation and the flight number, and there were all the details I needed: I didn't even need to hit return!

    Need to check the weather for a certain city? Simple enter weather: "name of city". Without even hitting return, you will have a list of weather options with the weather outlook at the bottom of the search options.

    Have a question? Type in the beginning of a statement followed by an asterisk.

    Want the latest score of your hometown team? Type in the team name for the latest game info and a link for more details.

    And the list of info goes on: stocks, conversions, zip codes, and more. Visit Explore Google Search for a complete list of searching options.

    Friday, December 11, 2009

    Google Teacher Academy -Washington DC

    I've just returned from the Google Teacher Academy where I learned an amazing amount of information. I was honored to be among 50 accepted educators out of 340 applicants from all across the country. Sharing what I learned in one blog post would be impossible: I learned so much that my head is still spinning with ideas and action plans. To be sure, I will be blogging more on each individual application.

    Going into the academy, I was most expecting to learn about all the cool, new apps such as Google Wave. What surprised me is the extent of information which I learned about apps which I knew well (or, should I say I thought I knew well)!

    Such as:

    • Google spreadsheets has Magic Fill - automatically completes a list by filling in related items you enter. "Strawberries", "bananas", "peaches"... think quick! 20 more fruits!"
    • With the feature "View Together", Google Presentation allows a back channel of information during the slideshow presentation.
    • Using Google Books, you can embed certain ebooks onto your website.
    • Google Docs not only displays word count, but reading level
    One of the highlights of my Google experience was listening to Jerome Burg talk about his Google Lit Trips. Once again, I thought this was a tool which I knew well and needed no further instruction. However, hearing Jerome's passion and his philosophy on motivating students was so inspirational! And when I told him about my idea of using Google Lit Trips for our Read the World even next year on Latin America, he said he would love to be involved! How awesome.

    So -as I mentioned, more blogging to come on the wonderful world of Google!