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Searching for the Grail?

Power Searching with Digital Logic

The Workshop

No sense sending students and colleagues out to search the Internet or a CD-ROM encyclopedia unless they possess a toolkit of powerful search strategies to speed them past Info-Glut and Info-Garbage to the very information they need.

Power Searching cuts past what David Shenk calls Data Smog.

Learn these ten strategies and you are on your way to information which is pertinent, cogent and worth saving.

 1. Question and draw before you search  6. Go to the source
 2. Learn the syntax  7. Be discrete
 3. Learn the features  8. Cull your findings
 4. Start big and broad  9. Be playful
 5. Browse before grazing  10. Use only the best

Search engines don't work well on the almost unlimited, often unstructured resources of the Internet, says J. Pemberton:

    "Think of a search engine as a dog whistle. Blow it in a kennel and you'll just attract dogs. Blow it in a zoo, and you'll get a few dogs, plus many other creatures with good high frequency hearing: maybe some lions or tigers, hyenas, coyotes, timber wolves, perhaps a moose. . . . The point is this: the Internet is a zoo." Jeffery K. Pemberton's column in Online User Magazine, May/June 1996.

1. Question and draw before you search

Think and draw before you plunge. Make a list of great questions.

Take advantage of mindware like Inspiration™ to create a cluster diagram with several dozen concepts, keywords and telling questions which will be powerfully instrumental later when executing your search. (Inspiration download)


You ask your students to work as teams to propose a mix of laws and government programs which would serve to protect old growth forests while restoring the vitality of this nation's timber industry.

You send them to one particularly intriguing article to start them thinking.

You ask them to work in teams to create cluster diagrams listing as many pertinent concepts and keywords as possible.

One team's diagram looks something like this.

 Workshop Activity:

Throughout this workshop you will employ Internet search engines to explore one challenging question in considerable depth.

You may create your own question provided that it is a question, not just a topic. Some questions may not be well treated by the "free Internet" so it may pay to select a current issue of some kind so that you experience some level of success.

Step One - Decide upon a question.

Here are some suggestions:

  • If you were making recommendations to Congress to address one of the following problems, what would be the five most important steps you would urge?
    • acid rain
    • global warming
    • urban decay
    • violent crime
    • drunken driving
    • smog
    • traffic congestion
    • water pollution
    • declining fish harvests
    • endangered species
    • unemployment
    • government corruption
    • health care costs
    • AIDS
    • teen pregnancy
    • racial conflict
    • gangs
  • You are planning a two year study sabbatical. Which of the following three (Asian, European, Australian) cities would best meet your personal needs and your professional interests?
  • Imagine that you are considering a major career change. Make a list of your top three choices and then determine which would prove most satisfying based upon what you can learn from the experience of others.
  • Imagine that you have been asked to identify a graduation speaker for your high school. Make a list of 3-5 current thinkers or important people and then rank them according to your research on selection criteria which you identify in advance.
  • Identify some curious recent phenomenon which is shrouded in mystery and really needs some heavy duty explanation. Without simply borrowing or re-packaging other people's ideas and hypotheses, see if you can come up with some fresh theories which are a synthesis of other people's ideas.

Step Two - Draw and think

Create as rich a cluster diagram as possible using whatever drawing program you have available on the computer. If you are limited to a word processor, write your question at the top and create lists of associated concepts and keywords. This is a good time to use a thesaurus to broaden your choices.

You want to approach your search with word choices which will allow you to explore all the important aspects and dimensions of the issue.

Note: While cluster diagrams can also be drawn on paper, it pays to explore the benefits of electronic tools.

  • Can you see how they might provide any advantages over paper, pencil and eraser?
  • What do you want your students to understand about these tools?


Next search strategies

 Credits: Icons are from Jay Boersma.
Other drawings, photographs and graphics are by Jamie McKenzie.

© 2000-2006, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved.

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