Google Customized Search Engine

A Post from Jill

I recently had one of the most powerful learning experience of my professional career.  It came as I was piloting an integrated science/literacy project with a group of sixth graders in inner-city Oakland, CA. This Earth Science unit was designed to help students learn about climate change.

For six weeks, students explored science content using a range of disciplinary literacy strategies such as annotating text, analyzing evidence based arguments, and writing evidence-based explanations.  The first four weeks of the unit was teacher guided and involved students in reading articles, examining trends in graphs, working with animations/simulations, and discussing new understandings in pairs and small groups.

Drawing on the notion that deep, engaged learning occurs when students explore self-selected, open-ended questions about which they are genuinely interested, the last two weeks of the unit involved students in completing an inquiry project.  This project challenged the students to build on what they had learned during the first part of the unit and take it further by designing a tool, technique, or campaign to combat climate change.  Each group chose a focus (from a bank of five choices), conducted online research, and went about inventing a way to lessen the effects of climate change.  The design challenge Google site spells out the project parameters and the assignment guidelines.

To help scaffold students’ inquiry as they gathered information online, I opted to try out the free service Google offers for building a customized search engine (see http://www.google.com/educators/p_cse.html).  The customized search engine limits the Web sites that come up in search results, listing only those that are pre-selected by the designer/teacher.  Given the sheer volume of information on the Internet,creating a customized search  can be highly supportive option for novice Internet users.

Since a teacher can choose the sites she wants students to search, she can guarantee students’ searches will yield limited number of highly relevant search results, making the time learners spend online more efficient and purposeful. The advantages of narrowing searches to a more targeted and manageable size ensures that students gain valuable practice sifting through a limited amount of search results, freeing up time to put the information to use.

Having explored the use of a customized search engine, I can attest to its efficacy as a viable scaffold for online research.  I observed even the most novice Internet users successfully locate relevant, reliable information in a short amount of time.  I was elated to see students spend quality time digging into the resources they found, following the links to related sites, and  making a range of inter-textual connections to content within and beyond the unit.

To set up a customized search engine, simply set up a Google educator account, choose the Web sites and resources you would like students to access, then follow a few simple steps to create the search engine.  An example customized for sixth graders studying ways society can lessen the effects of climate change can be found at Combating Climate Change http://www.google.com/cse/home?cx=014465768746147993326:rncbgcerhjk&hl=en.

Students spent three days gathering online information using the customized search feature, another two days synthesizing ideas, and two more days creating a Glog to share what they had learned. Finally, students made an oral presentation showcasing their ideas. The confidence students’ displayed as they discussed their final products with their peers was truly amazing.  Feel free to browse students’ work at the URLs below:

eVoc Strategies: 10 Ways to Use Technology to Build Vocabulary in Feb 2011 Reading Teacher

A post from Jill

Fellow Literacy Beat bloggers Bridget Dalton and Dana Grisham have just had a new piece published entitled Voc Strategies: 10 Ways to Use Technology to Build Vocabulary in Feb 2011 Reading Teacher!  In this brilliantly insightful article Bridget and Dana invite teachers to ‘go digital with word learning’ and experiment with integrating technology. The piece draws on research-based principles of vocabulary instruction and features free digital tools and Internet resources that engage students in vocabulary learning. Bridget and Dana offer readers ten practical and easy-to-implement ways to develop students’ interest in words as they read, view, interact with, and create word meanings in digital and multimedia contexts. A listing of these ten strategies, a brief description of each, and live links to the resources included in the article follow:

The first five eVoc strategies focus on explicit teaching of vocabulary and helping students become independent word learners.

  • eVoc Strategy 1: Learn From Visual Displays of Word Relationships Within TextTwo of Bridget and Dana’s favorite word mapping tools that support visual representation are Wordle and Wordsift. Both tools help students develop visual displays that highlight the relationships between words.
  • eVoc Strategy 2: Take a Digital Vocabulary Field TripTeachers can create a digital version of a vocabulary field trip using a free online program called TrackStar. This tool makes it easy to collect a series of websites and annotations that together create a connected online journey.
  • eVoc Strategy 3: Connect Fun and Learning With Online Vocabulary GamesBridget and Dana recommend two sites that offer a variety of activities to engage students in playing with words and word meanings: Vocabulary Can Be Fun! and Vocabulary.com. Both sites feature games including crossword puzzles, picture-word matches, word scrambles, and other word fun. These sites offer hours of interactivity and enjoyment for students of all ages.
  • eVoc Strategy 4: Have Students Use Media to Express Vocabulary KnowledgeThis strategy focuses on students’ vocabulary representations in multiple modes—writing, audio, graphic, video, and animation. Bridget and Dana suggest that a multimedia composing and presentation tool that is often underused is PowerPoint.  However, they found that PowerPoint can be used creatively for expression and offer compelling and illustrative suggestions and examples in the article.
  • eVoc Strategy 5: Take Advantage of Online Word Reference Tools That Are Also Teaching ToolsMany online word reference tools, such as The Visual Thesaurus are also excellent teaching resources. This resources supplements its fee-based content with free information such as the Behind the Dictionary and Teachers at Work columns and teacher-created themed word lists. The Dictionary.com Back in School page can be accessed through a variety of platforms (iPhone, Facebook) so its always available as a support tool.

Strategies 6 and 7 highlight two online tools that provide just-in-time support while reading.

  • eVoc Strategy 6: Support Reading and Word Learning With Just-in-Time Vocabulary Reference SupportRather than using print dictionaries or asking teachers for help, students can learn to use online dictionaries and thesauri. Some word reference tools can be mounted on the browser toolbar, allowing students to right click on any word to look it up and have a brief definition display.  For example, see the Dictionary Add-ons for Internet Explorer and Mozilla. Merriam-Webster offers an online visual dictionary, and Enchanted Learning provides a picture dictionary for young children.
  • eVoc Strategy 7: Use Language Translators to Provide Just-in-Time Help for ELs The value of a translator is that it supports learning words as they occur naturally in authentic text and allows students to view bilingual versions of a text side by side so that they can use their first-language  knowledge to develop their English vocabulary. Babelfish,Google translator, and Bing Translator can be very helpful to English learners.

Strategies 8 and 9  help increase students’ volume of reading and, indirectly, their incidental word learning.

  • eVoc Strategy 9: Increase Reading Volume by Listening to Digital Text With a Text-to-Speech Tool and Audio BooksText-t0-speech tools such as Click, Speak for FirefoxNaturalReader free TTS utility, and Balabolka, allow students to listen to text with audio narration. This provides students with access to age-appropriate content and grade-level curriculum.

The last strategy promotes social learning and taps into students’ natural desire to create, to participate in communities, and to develop strategic competence.

  • eVoc Strategy 10: Combine Vocabulary Learning and Social ServiceFree Rice offers an opportunity to promote students’ engagement with words while contributing to the social good. For each correct answer, the United Nations World Food Programme donates 20 grains of rice to countries in need.

Join me in applauding fellow bloggers Bridget Dalton and Dana Grisham on a supremely well-done piece that offers numerous engaging ideas for expanding vocabulary using free digital tools.

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