A relatively little-known feature of Google is that students and teachers can create their own customised search engines. Simply input a pre-approved sites into the interface, create labels that you wish to apply to them (e.g. “Key Stage 3”, “GCSE”, “Geography”, “History”) and then they can be used in class. This customised search engine can then be instructed to list only those particular sites in its results, or alternatively simply give them preferential treatment whilst still searching the rest of the web.
To use the facility, you will need to have a Google Account. Then, search Google for “Google Customised Search Engine” which will give you a link to this page. From that point, it is simply a case of clicking “New Search Engine”. In the first instance, you will be asked to provide just one single website as the basis of your search engine. However, once this is created and you then select ‘Modify Search Engine’ you get a whole new range of options which, for example, allow you to add as many fresh websites as you wish and to create labels for them. The interface looks something like this:
Once completed, you can obtain a public web address for your search engine, or get the code to embed it into your blog, website or wiki.
There are several obvious possibilities and advantages of using this facility:
Teachers can create subject-specific and age-appropriate search engines for their students
This would create a safe ‘walled garden’ search experience. Younger students can, in this way, be directed away from getting bogged down in turgid Wikipedia pages; older students directed towards more specifically academic websites (this would be particularly useful for Extended Essays, Internal Assessments, Individual Projects…).
Challenge students to design their own search engine at the end of a study topic.
At the end of a study topic, students could be instructed to design their own search engine for it. This might involve
- Deciding what ‘labels’ could be used to subdivide the topic (e.g. by type – ‘Primary sources’, ‘Biographies’, ‘Articles’, or by subtopic – ‘Social’, ‘Political’, ‘Economic’) and then
- Selecting what they consider to be the 10 best websites for the topic in question, and providing a justification for their choices in a written “proposal” to the teacher.
The best search engine, based on the quality and range of websites provided, could then be generated and the link shared with the class for the main research project. The following year, new students could test the website with key words from the topic and then suggest fresh additions / amendments to the sites included and to the labels used.
The benefits of this activity are that it encourages students do decide how best to subdivide the topic (choosing the ‘labels’) and also to reflect on what different websites might be able to offer the research process in terms of range, depth and accessibility. By engaging in this process they start to break the topic into more manageable chunks and provide themselves with a hand-picked, carefully selected list of website sources to use for their research project or end-of-unit essay.
ActiveHistory Site Search: I designed this one so that users of ActiveHistory can quickly locate any resource they require on the website.
Safe Search Engine for History Students: This is one which I put together for use in the history classroom. Resources are ‘labelled’ by age group (a work in progress).
ClassTools.net Fakebook Search: This search engine allows users of the “Fakebook” application to quickly locate a template if they lose the URL.