How to Use Search Challenges

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frustrated student

Students who are not taught search strategies come up with them on their own. Intuitive, home-grown approaches may be successful, leaving the impression that searching is relatively easy. Trouble ensues when the challenges are no longer easy.

Many things students search for are not hard. Google is well-designed to find the easy stuff.

School assignments, on the other hand, can be harder:

"Are children becoming smarter (or more socialized) because of the Internet?
To what extent are fast food restaurants responsible for obesity?
What are the possible consequences of laws that may be created to prevent bullying?

These and other questions can be extremely challenging to search online. Knowing how to retrieve relevant, accurate information using queries isn't obvious. Clear answers to the research questions may not even exist.

search 1

Pain Point

Search Challenges help students recognize their shortcomings while searching. Challenges start easy (Level 1) and get progressively harder. At some point, students will fail. This is the teachable moment. "Would you like to learn more effective ways to search?"

Search Challenges may be experienced individually or as a group. A good way to introduce Search Challenges is to bring a group together and display a Challenge. Look at the statement to solve: "What are we searching for?" This is a very important step, since the only sure way not to find what you are looking for is to look for the wrong thing. Then start the Challenge. Ask for query suggestions. Test them. Look at the results. "Are we getting closer?" If not, try another query. If so, the next step may be browsing to find the answer.

Each Challenge gives expert search hints that focus attention on good search strategies. Following the hints helps in finding the solutions. Teachers don't need to be expert searchers. The hints really do help.

Once a group has the grasp of how this works, let them work individually or in pairs, querying followed by looking at results followed by re-querying or browsing the text to answer the Challenge. Timed Challenges are no longer the preferred method, but are still available to make searching more of a contest. Information Fluency is not defined by how fast you can find information, although search speeds should pick up once good strategies are being used. Difficult searchers still require time and re-searching. When that happens, fluency depends on persistence.

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