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Searching With Savvy: The Best Search Engines for Teachers and Students

If you are frustrated by search engines that give you unrelated responses ... if you are spending too much time looking for on-line resources ... if you are worried that students may access the wrong kind of information ... read on! There are many search engines that can help you find pertinent, accurate, and safe information, but you need to find one that "thinks" the way you do! Included: All the common search engines plus some you probably haven't heard about!

Have you ever performed an on-line search that resulted in totally unexpected matches? Almost anyone who has used the Internet has had that experience. The difficulty may be in the keywords you choose, or it may be with the search engine itself. For those who have mastered the technique, searching is an art. You learn to adjust your thinking to match an engine and get better results.

However, the key to effective searching may be in finding a search engine or directory that "thinks" like you!

Howard B. Schechter, Ed.D., the director of education at Intralearn Software Corporation, told Education World that his favorite search engine, Google, is smarter, faster, and more focused than others he has tried.

"Different engines 'think' differently," he said. "Many are somewhat arcane in their logical process and come up with a lot of stuff that isn't relevant, Google doesn't do that." According to Schechter, searching with Google is as simple as entering the subject you want to find. "I have been looking for a copper birdbath and just typed in 'copper birdbath,' and up came my top choice!"

Are you feeling lucky? Google's I'm Feeling Lucky button takes you to the first result it recommends for your search. If you believe that this will be the site you are looking for, selecting this button will save you time -- no more waiting for an endless stream of hits to roll in! Otherwise, regular searching with Google returns highly accurate results through mathematical analysis. When your search results appear, you will see excerpts of the actual text where your keywords appear, permitting you to weed out unwanted sites and locate the resources that best match your needs.



There are many search engines and directories on the Internet, but the trick to good searching is finding the one that works best for you. The search tools highlighted below have features that will help you make the most of your research time by retrieving the on-line material you need.

When searching with Lycos, your motto should be "Less is more!" The more narrow and focused your Lycos search, the better the results will be. To improve the accuracy of your searches, use quotation marks around the names of individuals or exact phrases you seek. This engine also allows you to incorporate plus and minus signs before keywords. A plus sign shows that the results must contain the word indicated, and a minus directs the engine to exclude sites with the identified term.

The popular search directory Yahoo! offers two ways to access information on the Web. Because it is a searchable index, you may enter the title of a site you are looking for, and it will return as many related links as it can locate. However, if you are interested in finding material about a certain subject, you may enter keywords and search the database or click on a heading from Yahoo!'s index. At each level of the index, you will find more specific categories to explore until you locate just the information you need. The engine's advanced search options provide the opportunity to search only Web sites that have been added to the database in the past four years to one day, a handy tool if you need very current information.

AltaVista is a search engine with some interesting features. Among those features, did you know that on AltaVista, you have the option of searching for Web pages, images, video, or audio? If you are looking for a picture of an animal or a famous person for a lesson, visit this site and type a name in the box, mark the circle labeled images, and click on search. A selection of picture files will be displayed. Other searching techniques that can be employed when using AltaVista are explained on its Help page.

Take a tour of the Web with WebCrawler! A directory with an accessible index of links by category, this engine is also searchable by keyword. A special section on the home page provides links to articles about the hottest news and current events. Another highlight on this page is the "Daily Toolbox." Here, you will find a set of links to interesting guides and information on the Net. Click on complete list to access the entire collection of handy tools from many different resources.

If you are limited by the inability of search engines to find sites that deal with concepts related to your queries, you have a reason to be excited about Excite. This search engine claims it has formulated an "intelligent search," whereby the engine recognizes topics that are closely matched to the wording you have used and displays that material in a comprehensive list. Other unique features of Excite include the option Search for more documents like this one. When you find a link that seems to describe exactly what you seek, click on those words for another search. You may also choose View by Web Site to eliminate the appearance of many pages from any one site.

On the surface, Infoseek appears to be somewhat like other search engines with indexed lists and search fields. Unlike other engines, however, it offers GOguardian, a filtering program that sifts adult material out of search results. Although the program is easily turned off and on from a link on the home page, most children won't even notice that their responses are being monitored. To perform more accurate searches with Infoseek, be sure queries contain proper capitalization. Another tip is to begin with a general search, and then refine the search within those results. Enter your second set of keywords, mark the box Search within results, and click on Find.

Don't you just hate popularity contests? In the case of Direct Hit, they are not a bad thing! A newcomer to the world of search engines, this tool uses the responses of its visitors to determine the best and most popular sites on the Net. The popular sites rise in the standings, and sites that are selected less often fall. The site also has a means of measuring the time its users actually spend at a given URL, and it uses that information in calculating the standings. In a recent test conducted by CNet, Direct Hit secured the title of "most accurate search results" among the competing search engines.

HotBot brings together many of the best features of other search engines. Visitors can enter keywords, choose words that the results must contain, select a time frame for publication of the sites, and limit the search to a specific domain name. Of interest to educators is the option to specify media types or technologies that must be included in the results. With this capability, teachers may find highly interactive, visually appealing, and entertaining sites that will capture and keep the attention of students.



A second type of searching tool is the "meta-search" engine. When a query is entered into one of these sites, it contacts many other search engines and performs the search. The results are compiled, duplicates are removed, and a list of hits is returned to the viewer. While searching with a meta-search engine may take slightly more patience -- searches may run a few seconds longer -- many users feel the improved results are well worth any additional wait. When compared with performing the searches independently on several sources, meta-search engines are worth their "wait" -- in gold!

Laura Dowling, a substitute teacher from Virginia and Webmaster of Mrs. Dowling's Virtual Classroom, is a believer in the meta-search engine. Her preferred search tool is MetaCrawler.

"It doesn't give me lots of useless sites, it is simple to use, and it is mainly a search engine," Dowling said of MetaCrawler. "It doesn't focus on many other functions like e-mail, calendars, chat, etc. MetaCrawler is good for a general run. It doesn't always bring up enough sites, so another engine is needed when that happens. I either go to Yahoo! at that point or to Excite."

Rated the number one meta-search service on the World Wide Web, MetaCrawler relies on search engines such as, AltaVista, Excite,, Infoseek, WebCrawler, Lycos, and others to do the actual searching for information. It then organizes the information and presents it to the user in order of relevance to the search terms. MetaCrawler has a knack for finding the right information quickly!

Another fan of the meta-search is Kathy Housley, moderator of the Classroom Connect Mailing List. She fields many questions about her preferred search engine, and Dogpile is the search tool she most often recommends.

"Dogpile has easy-to-select choices for searches, a Fetch button -- I'm easily entertained! -- and search results that come from a variety of search engines, with excellent descriptions of featured sites," Housley explained. "There are neat little buttons to popular sites for a quick diversion -- eBay [and] the Electric Library, etc. Dogpile usually gives me what I'm looking for."

Even with her experience, Housley finds that she is sometimes surprised by the results of her searches. "Amazingly at times I get strange combos, and I realize my mind doesn't work like that particular search engine. For instance, if I were looking for lesson plans for listening skills, I would type in "listening" +lesson. I did this and got back a bunch of spy stories on listening devices. Then I put in "listening skill" +lesson and got what I was looking for. I like [Dogpile] because it gives me all the top search engines and their results. I'm spoiled!"

No matter what search engines they are using, Housley advises new surfers not to give up. "It's not so much the search engine; it's how you search," she said. "Try to narrow your search. Don't be discouraged. It's just like fine wine -- you'll get better with age and experience. My word selection has been much better in recent months than ever before."

What can you do when you need to look up the answer to a question on the Internet? Ask Jeeves. This meta-search engine will help you find the answers you seek by posing your question in the form of queries to other search tools. It will also correct spelling errors in your questions if you choose. For the curious, a window on the home page shows the questions other users are asking Jeeves right now!

The Savvy Search message is "Search once, find everything!" With more than 200 resources connected, this meta-search engine gives you "mega" results! Enter keywords or check the phrase box, and type the words you are looking for in order. Savvy Search will do the rest. An organized list of hits will appear in seconds, ready for your perusal!


Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © 2000, 2002 Education World


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Links updated 6/28/2002