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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Change the Dialect to Change Your Search Results

One of the points that I always make in my Search Strategies webinar is the importance of thinking about how other people describe the topic you're researching. Here are two examples of how that has had an effect on my travel planning.

Going to Australia
A couple of years ago I gave the opening keynote for a conference in Australia. Since the trip to Australia from Portland, Maine is about the longest one I could make without leaving Earth's atmosphere, I spent some time researching the best flights and seats within those flights.

To do my research I turned to the message board community on FlyerTalk.com (it's kind of like Consumer Reports meets Trip Advisor for airlines). Once it was determined that I would be flying Qantas (I didn't have much choice on that matter) from Dallas to Sydney I set out to see what people were saying about seats on the A380 that flies on that route. I started out using the name Dallas in my search, but I didn't see nearly as many posts on the topic as I had hoped. Further, the posts that I did find were written by people who had made relatively few contributions to the community. After reading some not-so-helpful post I realized that most frequent contributors to the community don't actually spell out full city names. Instead, they use airport abbreviation codes like DFW when writing about Dallas. As soon as I switched out Dallas and for DFW in my search I found a lot more posts from frequent contributors to the FlyerTalk community.

Storing luggage in London
The first time that I went to London for the BETT Show I needed to store some of my luggage at the conference center during the day. It isn't uncommon for large conference centers to offer a luggage hold service for a nominal fee. I wanted to confirm my hunch in advance so I spent some time searching on the BETT and conference center websites for “coat check,” “bag check,” “coat room,” and “bag storage” in the hopes of confirming my assumption. My searches were fruitless.

Eventually I confirmed my assumption about a baggage check when I stumbled upon a map of the conference center. In browsing around the map I discovered a “cloakroom.” When I hear “cloak” I instantly think of the Count Chocula character from the cereal boxes of the 1980’s (my mother never let us eat that kind of cereal despite our pleas). I never thought to use the word “cloak” in any of my searches for information about storing my jacket and small bag for the afternoon. Cloak is just not a regular part of my American vernacular.

How this applies to students:
Five or six years ago I heard my friend Tom Daccord at EdTechTeacher.org (an advertiser on this blog) give an example of social studies students researching films of the early 20th Century. In his example Tom mentioned that the students who insisted on using the term "movies" in their searches didn't get nearly as far as those who used terms like "talkies," "moving pictures," and "cinema." This was due to the fact that "movies" wasn't a part of the common dialect of film critics in the early 20th Century.

For students to understand the dialect of the topics that they are researching, they will have to do some prior reading and learning on the topic. One thing that I've asked students to do when reading primary sources that I've distributed to them is to highlight or write down the terms and phrases that are new to them. Often those highlighted terms and phrases often end up being a huge asset to them when they are trying to choose the best terms to use in Google searches.

By the way, if you copy and paste a primary document into Google Docs then share it with students, it is very easy for them to highlight new-to-them phrases and for you to see what they've highlighted.

How to Use Hemingway to Analyze Your Writing

This morning I received an email from someone who was requesting a little help getting started with Hemingwayapp.com. Hemingwayapp.com is a free tool for analyzing your own writing. In the video embedded below I demonstrate how to use Hemingwayapp.com

Three Super Bowl Themed Educational Activities

The Super Bowl is this coming Sunday (I predict that the Patriots will win). The odds are good that you have some students who are also interested in the game. Try one of the following resources to turn your students' enthusiasm for the Super Bowl into a fun lesson.

NBC's Science of Football is a series of ten videos from NBC Learn explaining and demonstrating math and science concepts as they relate to football. The list of topics covered in the Science of NFL Football includes Torque & Center of Mass, Pythagorean Theorem, Geometric Shapes, Projectile Motion & Parabolas, Vectors, Kinematics, Nutrition, and Newton's 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Laws of Motion.

Choosito has a lesson plan that asks students to investigate the causes and effects of concussions. The lesson includes studying the trends in concussion diagnoses and treatments during the last 20 years.

Practical Money Skills hosts a series of eight online games designed to teach students some money management skills. One of the games that is timely considering that the Super Bowl is just a few days away is Financial Football. Financial Football has students answer questions about budgets, savings, and spending to move their football teams down the field against another team. The games use real NFL team logos. Financial Football takes at least twenty minutes to play.