I was at the store looking for a new suitcase. Mine definitely wouldn’t survive even one more overnight jaunt, so after months of procrastination, and with a trip to D.C. looming, I decided that it was time to look at the possibilities. On-line research gave me some ideas, but I wanted to have some hands-on experiences with real life suitcases of all sizes and colors; thus my trip to the mall. Too many choices and far too much time later found me on the floor, iPhone in hand searching for luggage reviews, comparing prices and double-checking the airline regulations for carry-on sizes.
The ability to use a phone – a phone! – to locate and access information is truly amazing. When we look for this kind of information, we’re usually in public places, and often with friends and/or family and with a mission to accomplish. We don’t want to take up extra time fumbling around in sites that won’t get us the information we need.
Learning how to use keywords as search terms requires a thought process that hones into specific words that explain what you want. Looking for information is not always intuitive, yet it’s a skill we use every day. Our tech-savvy students need instruction in effective searching so that they can find the website, vet the information quickly, and determine its use and accuracy for the need at hand.
Take my student Jack for example. One day at lunch, he came in with an assignment to look for facts about a career that interested him. I watched him sit down at the computer and begin his search. After 15 minutes, he pushed back his chair and said: “There’s nothing on these stupid computers about pilots – nothing!”
I asked him to show me what he had been doing up to that point. He had typed in the word “pilot” as his search term. Instead of the information he expected – information on a career as a pilot, he got page after page of Pilot brand pens, television pilots, and hundreds of companies named “Pilot”. No wonder he was frustrated. He never got far enough in the queue of website hits to get to the sites he needed, since ‘airline pilots’ didn’t show on the first page.
A brief discussion about keywords brought him quickly to websites about airline pilots – the goal of his search, and he was ready to move on and get his work done.
We’ve all spent time teaching keyword searching, and since ‘instant access’ is the norm, it seems more important than ever to highlight this skill. Have you helped a student like Jack? Share your story! Let’s chat about how searching has now become a real part of our everyday experience, not just a classroom or library activity.
What strategies can we employ to help teach these skills more effectively? What’s the last keyword you ‘Googled’ or ‘Binged’?
Connie Williams is a high school librarian and an advocate for school libraries. She had a great time with her new suitcase not only at ALA, but in Chicago, the beach and the mountains! Connie loves comments; you can also contact her via email.