Shrewsbury EdTech

Tech resources for Shrewsbury Public School educators

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Refine your Search (Engines)

This past week, we had the pleasure to attend MassCUE over at Gillette Stadium (it felt a bit odd to be there without a grill, lobsters, and other tailgate accessories, but that’s not important here)…

So, over the next few weeks, we’ll share some of our key learnings in these posts.

This week’s topic: search engines.

For many of us, when we search it’s a reflex movement towards Google, or perhaps Bing — but these represent only a very small slice of the options available.  Depending on the task at hand, and your target group of students, there are a wide range of options available.  Here are a few (followed by a site where you can find all of the engines in one tidy spot).

Duck Duck Go has several things going for it, including:

  • it does not use cookies / track you – sites like Google use what’s called a “filter bubble” – they build a profile of your tendencies, and give you search results based on what they know about your habits.  DDG gives a fresh search every time
  • The interface is clean – ad free.
When you look at the results, there are a couple other cool features, too:
  • If the site has an icon, it appears next to the entry.
  • There are add-ons under the “More” menu – click on Goodies and you get math and science tools, specialized searches and helpful little items sorted by subjects.
Carrot2 is a nifty little “clustering engine.”  Basically, it takes results and groups them into visual folders, which you can look at in several formats…
Results can be shown as a color wheel, with the size of the slice representing the number of links.
The little dots to the right represent each page in the results — when you select a title, the corresponding dots darken, and summaries of their content are give to the right.
You can also choose what they call a “foam tree” – same concept as above, with the size of the box representing the relative number of hits for that item.
Note: right now, the site is flash based, meaning it won’t work on IPad browsers (except for those that have a workaround – more on that in future posts)… but they are converting over to HTML 5.
This next tool – Twurdy –  is an interesting one (in spite of a name that sounds vaguely obscene) – it returns search results, color coded according to the required reading level.  It takes the site a little while to run its lexile algorithm, so be patient waiting for results, but the results can be well worth it…
As you can see, the entries are shaded different colors, which correspond to the color codes you see on the chart to the right.
This is a bit more specific than the results you get from one of my favorite search engines, which I detailed in an earlier post – instagrok.
Search Cube  is another interesting way to see results – it gives you little images of each site, on a cube you can rotate…
This can be very useful with images and videos, and also is kind of fun to spin around…
This last one is perhaps the most useful, from a teacher standpoint.  Put in a search term, and get results sorted by category – lesson plan, text book, quiz / test, etc.  Just go to
Each column is a different resource type – interactive activities, websites, tests, videos, lessons, slide shows… this can save a lot of time in planning – don’t reinvent the wheel!
Looking for even more search engines?  Hop on over to this symbaloo site: – it has links to a couple dozen different ones, there’s bound to be something you’ll find useful.
Until next week!

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Don’t search it – Grok it!

First off, five points to anyone who can tell me – without looking it up – what “Grokking” is from.  Yes, if you know this, you’re something of a geek.  But, that’s ok.  Geek is Chic!

OK, on to the post of the week.  Did you ever use that cool search wheel thing that Google once offered? Well, there’s a pretty cool version of it, revived by another company:

This is one cool search tool – not only does it create a map of the concept a student is searching for – sort of a thesaurus of related terms that they can click on – but it also gives them access to a variety of source materials right on the screen, which they can save… and so much more.

This video does a nice job of explaining the basics:

So, in a nut shell, here’s what it does.  When a student goes here to conduct research, they are given a much more informative panel of information than they’d get on Google.  Consider this example, where I searched for “feudalism”:

In the main window, I have a word web.  This shows me the main term, and words closely associated with it.  To the right of the wheel, there’s a side bar with a TON of information:

 There’s a list of key facts, each of which can be expanded – giving full information from a specific website, which is linked.

You can click for additional websites, specific videos, and specific images on the green menu bars below the facts.

Concerned about the complexity of some of this information?  Just slide the little lever at the top of the screen!  This allows a student to set the difficulty level of the search – from elementary (the chalk board) to advanced (the Eistein).  This allows the material to be differentiated, helping each student challenge themselves appropriately.

So, what do you do with the information you find?  One nifty feature here is the little green button next to each piece of information, video, or image.  This little push-pin attaches the information to the word web, as you can see below:

Here, I clicked on a couple facts, a picture, and a video – each is now attached to the key term that was the focus on the search.

It’s a nice visual… but, even better, the selected information also appears in the student’s journal, right on the site:

Here, all the information is sorted by type and given a link to the original source – where the student can delve into deeper information and create a full citation for the source (or paste the link into Easybib, and then track from there – but I digress).

These notes and images can be edited, exported, and saved for use in a paper…

And, if you’re looking to dig deeper, you can click “more” next to those green bars – for example, if I click for “more” websites, I get this:

This page organizes the information I can find – each website is in its own box, where I can see the concepts it covers, along with a brief preview.  I can see its complexity as well – that’s the little cap and diploma icon tells me that these three sites are pretty advanced.
 If I like any of them, I can use the green button to pin them to my journal; if I reject any of them, I can just click the little trash can and remove it from the page.

Some of the real benefits come when you register as a teacher:  Once you do this, you can create a class code, which your students will use when they go onto InstaGrok.  With this class code, you are able to check your students’ progress – sites they have visited, notes they’ve put in their journals, etc., making it a lot easier to help each child reach their potential.

This video does a nice job of explaining the benefits of using InstaGrok as a teacher – give it a look; the visual does a better job of doing this site some justice:

This site has some great potential – for differentiating materials during research, and for helping track what students do find.  Give it a shot – play around with it, and see for yourself!

Until next week,

Derek & Jeremy