The other day I was in a Language Arts class working with some students around Google Search tips and techniques. Knowing that we are now living in the information age, when we have access to so much information, it is more about how you find the information as opposed to what information you know.
We started by playing around at http://www.agoogleaday.com/ where you get three questions to answer using your best search techniques and tricks. The quicker you answer the question, the more points you get and the top searcher wins. Of course, we had to have a discussion about the purpose of this and that this was not a graded activity, so there was no use for sites that already had all of the questions and answers already posted. We were doing this to find out what we knew about conducting an effective search using Google and what we needed to work on.
The gaming aspect can make this more engaging than just if we had them list out those techniques they use when conducting a search. Many students may say they just write out the whole question but this will not work for every situation. We have to learn how to get better and more precise results when conducting a search. Google does a great job of listing many tips and tricks online at https://www.google.com/intl/br/insidesearch/tipstricks/all.html but we have to practice them to understand how they work. This is something that we should be discussing in many classrooms as this will be something they will need as they continue to live and learn in the digital age.
This did cause me to think about other ways we could gamify the discussion around search practices and techniques. Luckily I remembered a game from my educational past that required us to learn how to search using encyclopedias and other text, well before we had a Google search engine to help us find information. The classic Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego was a fun way we had to learn about our own searching skills. Luckly you can still find this game as it is hosted on the Internet Archives site.
I wondered how this game would hold up today when we have access to so much more information. After playing a few games, all for research purposes of course, it does seem that it holds up well with a few caveats. First, there are sites out there that have all of the answers from the game so you can quickly finish a round without much thinking. This just means we need to ensure students understand the purpose of the activity and that finding the answers that way will not help us learn anything. Second, these games were dependent on certain books that were printed in specific years but since this was a long while ago, many countries and other things have changed in the real world. This could add some challenge to the activity as they will also have to take into account the time aspect. Again, this is just another skill that we can work on through the use of this game.
Overall I see two great opportunities to practice your search techniques with students: using the http://www.agoogleaday.com/ site or by playing a round of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego. Either way, we need to find ways to help our students become better finders of information so that we can move onto what we really want to do, use that information to think, create, collaborate, and communicate.
The most important part of any of these activities will be in the discussions we have with students and the subsequent applications of what they learned. The games themselves will not be the key learning but what we learned about best practices through the use of the games. Discussion afterwards is key and must be done in order for the learning to take place.