Researching Potato Bugs


A couple of years ago, we had a tree cut down in the back yard.  If you’ve ever been with me when I demonstrate Google Earth, I use this fact to answer two questions that always seem to arise.

  • How recent is the content – well the tree is still there online but not when I get home at night;
  • Google Earth is not live – that isn’t me in the garden;

Instead, there is just a stump that has been decaying since it was cut down.

It’s a great conversation piece when kids are over because you can pick away at some of the older wood and see potato bugs running around inside.  I had a question asked of me about potato bugs (“Do they bite?”) and I didn’t know the answer.  But I’ll bet the internet does.  So, I did what everyone on the planet would do…search Bing and search Google.

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I got the answer that I was looking for and, on a regular day, would have moved on to something else.  But, this morning, I had been reading about InstaGrok so I thought that I would give it a shot and see what it generated.  After all, it claims to be very education friendly. 

I loaded the service and was impressed with its format right away.  First of all, it’s green, but most importantly, the search area asks the question “What would you like to learn about?”  What a friendly landing page!

So, I typed “potato bugs” to see what InstaGrok would return and was very impressed with the results.

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If you were a fan of the wonder wheel like I was, you’ll immediately be impressed.  From a central search term, InstaGrok displays related contents in a graphic layout.  Double click on one of these nodes to expand the search using that topic.  So, I’m excited right now but it gets even better.

Over on the right side of the screen, to aid in the research, there’s a section called “Key Facts”.  It’s an awesome collection of quick hitting points with a “more” link to dig deeper.  Great stuff.  In addition to the facts, there’s a section for websites, videos, images, concepts (which provides a quick word cloud based on the results), and quizzes.  The teacher in me immediately heads to the quizzes where there was a bit related but also some off-topic content.   But the arrangement of the results is really impressive.  As I explored, I really had a positive feeling that I was doing some serious learning.  Each link clicked opens in a new window so that you don’t lose focus on the original search.  I really like that concept.

But it even gets better.  At the top of the screen, there’s a tab that opens a journal to allow you to collect your results to summarize your research.  I think of the times that you spend teaching copying and pasting!  This is really nicely thought through.  A visited tab keeps track of where you’ve been searching so that you don’t hit the same web resource over and over.  I’m really, really liking this!

I think of all the times that students do independent research whether at home or at school and how easily distracted they can get.  In this case, all the research efforts are focused on the one page and the journal tool lets the student tie it all together. 

I’m quite impressed with this tool.  I would have no hesitation is recommending it for classroom use.  Where it really would shine would be at home where there may not always be someone there to help guide research.  The presentation and all in one approach to the tools is very impressive.  I don’t keep this page up to date any more but, if I did, I would definitely add this link.

I’ve got to think that if you’re serious about teaching search and research techniques with students that you’ll find this resource a very valuable addition to your arsenal.

OTR Links 04/10/2012


Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.