The serendipitous circle of searches

search-bg.jpg  I was reading Joyce Valenza’s post this morning about databases and how they are possibly undervalued in the rush for things 2.0.

I also happen to agree with Joyce that databases are vastly underutilized.  Lots of reasons for that, from poor design by vendors, to a need for an easier access point, to a lack of understanding of them by school staff, to a lack of “non-library languaged” publicity on our part as librarians–but that is another longer post altogether.  But read the comments by students that she posted at the end of the article–really amazing insights on their parts.

One added value I think librarians have in a school is that we know how to search, and have lots of strategies and know when to use which sites, so we help people save time.
I suspect that librarians also like to search. 

In fact, I heard someone say once that ‘librarians like to search, but others like to find’….lol.   (One of the most interesting books I’ve read the last few months was The Search, which was about Google’s searching technology, so maybe that’s true).  

I was pondering all this when I read a post by Christian Long on think:lab, requesting good teaching resources for his new English courses he’ll be teaching this year.   I wanted to refer him to a project I’d used from Arapahoe High School last year to inspire our Vietnam project, but I couldn’t recall where on the Fischbowl site to find it or even when it was posted.

Thankfully,  Karl Fisch has a search box set up on his blog.  (Do you?)  So I typed in a variety of keywords until I found what I was looking for.

Here’s the irony–his search tool led to Technorati, which didn’t find the page on Karl’s site, but it did find a page on one of our own campus blogs, where Joel and I had posted about the projects.  (A fact which I had totally forgotten).   So I ended up back on our own workshop site, where we had a link to the project by Ms. Kakos!

All of this illustrates why we need to teach our students good habits of search.  Habits like:

  • knowing where to look in the first place 
  • knowing what search tools are capable of 
  • knowing when to persist and when to start over 
  • knowing to use alternative keywords (romanticism vs. romantics, for example)
  • knowing when to follow serendipitous leads

Whether using databases or “googling,” these habits of mind carry through any tool they might be using and make their search more successful.

The point is, if we expect that searching is just some natural skill all students have, then we aren’t giving them all the tools they need to succeed.  We need to model how we search, what we do when we meet obstacles, how we regroup if a search isn’t working and what our strategies are.  We need to verbalize our thinking as we search so that they can hear our thinking process.  

And it’s not just us–we need to create opportunities for students to share their thinking processes with one another as they search.   Do we ever ask a student to come up to the presenter station and model how they would find something  (the way we’d ask a student to model a math problem on a whiteboard?)  Do we ever ask them to discuss various ways they’d go about solving an information problem?   Or do we just tell them how to do it?  (I have erred too much on the telling side and really want to address that better this year, myself).

Joyce is right in that it is important that students have all the “tools” in their toolbox, and one of them is knowing a lot about search strategies.

2 thoughts on “The serendipitous circle of searches

  1. Hi C, catching up on my reading and love the ideas here. Funny, I started Day One with the students by showing a Wes Fryer vodcast about “Engaging, not Enthralling” that I found on Cindy Barnsley’s Thinking 2.0, then followed that with a Christian Long post on “what an A paper is.”

    Now I’m saving this one to use as a “lesson” on searching habits of mind. I love the “searching think-aloud” activity you suggest.

    On a larger note, I’m noticing that edublogger posts are starting to make good substitutes for much of the “schooly” readings we normally use to “teach” things like this.

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