How to Improve Search Fu?

When I think about the struggles that people my age had in finding information, when we were students, I shudder… but I’m also partially relieved.  I had to read a lot of books and write a lot of essays; and both skills greatly improved as a result.  But I didn’t really get a visual education until I took art history classes in college, and discovered that cartoons, engravings, drawings, photographs and art told you as much – or more – about the past than secondary sources did.

In class over the last few days, I’ve watched kids make Keynote (PowerPoint, for you PC users) slide shows to their classes which consist mostly of words and notes — text gleaned directly from the textbook, usually — with some early photographs and engravings.  But let’s face it — those slideshows are boring.

Here’s the advice I plan to give to my own students in the feedback I write down over the weekend.

When presenting in class:

  • Use Google or another search engine to try to:
    1. find a picture of every person mentioned in the text.
    2. find a picture of that person’s invention or device
    3. find maps to locate appropriate towns and states
    4. find photographs of the landscapes or skylines of those states
    5. find a political cartoon related to the era you’re explaining
    6. find graphs and pie charts of relevant economic or census information

Lots of people have done the hard work of creating these images for you.  It’s not to say you can’t make your own, but look smartly, and find images of all kinds.  Humans are more often visual learners than anything else — Get comfortable with helping others learn through images: you’ll do yourself a favor and you’ll get practice with finding imagery and ideas that explain and support your presentation.

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  1. I hear horror stories from John about how the middle schoolers just type up the first thing that appears in Google with little regard for the source or even secondary lookups on the terms they don’t know. I love the term “Google Fu” or “Search Fu”.

    I worry that this next generation won’t have the practice or capacity to analyze large amounts of research to form an understanding of their own, and worse yet to analyze it for their own observations or conclusions.

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