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If Google Can Answer Your Question.... Don't Ask Me!

I'm not sure whether it was the exact sentence we saw on Twitter on one of the past edchat sessions. For many, perhaps, it looked elegant and creative, since we noticed the expression was retweeted widely.

While Google indexes over a trillion of pages, search engines are limited in a number of ways. Due to websites are constantly changing with information being added and deleted, it is impossible for the spider to keep up with all the changes.

You should remember, too, that there are information they do not read: Search engines can't read .pdf or Flash files, they can't index ALL the data on sites with dynamic, real-time information, and they are unable to get to many databases accessible via the Internet.

According to the OCLC Online Computer Library Center's Office of Research, only 35% of the internet is publicly available and searchable via search engines; the other 65% consists of private or provisional sites, or sites that are not accessible by search engines.

Search is simple, says the Google support page, just type whatever comes to mind in the search box, hit Enter or click on the Google Search button, and voilá.

That's what most people do everyday, but students are doing it in the very same way when they are to know how to use search engines, not only Google by the way. What teachers are doing to help these non-professionals of the investigation?

First of all, we need to understand what is a query. According to a good reference, Googleguide: "It’s a request for information from a search engine. A query consists of one or more words, numbers, or phrases that you hope you will find in the search results listings."

I have the experience with two of my family members, one is in 7th grade and the other is a HS Senior, both of them don't know how to get their responses from Google and continuously come to me asking: How can I look for this...or that.

Being understood what a query is, student has to enter a query, type descriptive words into Google’s search box and start from there. For example: How to solve quadratic equations. First search gives me 2,550,000 possible aswers. Results are ranked using proprietary PageRank technology and the tendency is to click on the first link the results page shows. You need to be careful because Google indents pages that are on the same website as the first result.

Of course, you might be thinking, hey, I can get entirely different search results by using quotation marks around a group of words that form a phrase than if you do not use them. Yes. But inexperienced students don't. Notice that I am saying 'inexperienced' because there are the savvy ones, as well

If you just want any results, use the I’m Feeling Lucky button and this will send you to what Google considers the most relevant result that is not a paid advertisement. We take Google as example because this is the search engine mostly used. But you can also try bing.com and yahoo.com, both are absolutely reliable.

The search we've initiated on quadratic equations is unsearchable, we need to narrow our search by adding search words: quadratic equations Results: 2,180,000.

Since Google automatically searches for variations, we can narrow it down putting quotes:"quadratic equations." And now we've got a bit of success,572,000 results! If we want to exclude some results, you could use a minus sign: "quadratic equations" -graphs. Make sure you put a space before the minus sign and no space between the minus sign and the word or phrase you wish to exclude. Results: 443,000 with "solving quadratic equations" and the "Quadratic Formula" on top of the search page, that might be what your math student was trying to find.

Even when you are not familiar with Boolean Algebra, it's not quite difficult to remember two words. The default operator search engines use,is AND, which searches all words:solve+quadratic+equation (Try with plural equations and see the change in number of results). Either of those terms could be used with uppercase "OR"

Your student can use the stemming which is the term used when you search similar search terms or synonyms. Useful when your student can't even think of a word. When you put a tilde ~ in front of your search term, Google will look for both your chosen search term and synonyms. Do not put a space between the tilde and your search term. Ex. ~homework

There are other tips as the one over at The Cool Cat Teacher. Practical when you want your students search for educational videos other than those in YouTube only.

A specific piece of information, sometimes can get buried in a long web page and wouldn't be easy to spot the results, under these circumstances the best advice is to click on the Cached link and check the complete snapshot of the original page.

We don't even go over the misspelling issues. Sometimes the robot itself catches the problem and in bold letters from different color asks you: Did you mean... It does not occur all the times. Stress that your young researchers work carefully when doing their projects.

So, I will send my students to look deep the internet but I will tell them is wrong to think of the over heard expression: You can find everything on the internet. And at least, I will give them these tips and ask them to come to me for any other questions, anytime they need help. As Vicki A. Davis puts it once in answer to one of our posts, the internet is a tool, not the panacea.

Other quick tips. To nest searches, use parentheses () ex. math homework (help|resources). To search for statistics: scientific research ~statistics|~data|~table. Looking for glossary definitions gathered from various online sources? Try: define: potachovizar.

Also read:

- Google's lesser-known options.
- Google: How it Works
- Search Effectively Online.[video]

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  1. Funny, I just taught my students some searching tricks last week. They are amazed by how small changes can make such a big difference in results. The favorites were define: to find definitions, and time: for current times around the world. They also see great benefit in Google as a calculator.