Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Refining and Finding Keywords

The keywords you start with are often not the keywords you need.

A good example of this occurred recently in a summer program I was leading. It wasn't an Information Fluency workshop, but it did give me an opportunity to show some middle schoolers how to find the information they were seeking.

The program was "Lifecycle of a Startup" at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora, Illinois. Middle school students attend who want to experience being in a startup. We compress the first year of a startup into five days as a simulation game. Most of it is real--they pitch their ideas to real investors in a shark tank experience to raise (simulated) capital to get their business off the ground.

One team was having trouble developing its idea. It was Day Three and they hadn't firmed up what their new product was going to be. They had been toying with the problem of CO2 emissions and wanted to develop an ink that could absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. They just hadn't found a way to do this.

As I watched them search, this was a typical query:
how to remove carbon dioxide from the air using ink
The first article they found was one about using carbon nanoscale fibers to remove CO2 from the air. But since this didn't have anything to do with ink, they moved on, growing frustrated. Fortunately, improvements to search engines allows them to use a long natural language string and get results (it wasn't always that way).

They missed seeing a couple better keywords in the reading which I pointed out: carbon sequestration--the name of the process.

I suggested they query: carbon sequestration ink

I'm not sure the students had ever heard of sequestration before, but it's an effective term to query. Would they have used it on their own? Doubtful. But students should be encouraged to look for better terms in the results, even (especially) if the words aren't familiar. 

This produced a link to some Google Scholar articles which opened doors to what they were looking for. Of course, the girls had to skim the articles to see if they were relevant. Another search term popped out of the first article: reduced carbon-footprint concrete.

The girls eventually found a connection between what makes concrete absorb CO2 and what could be added to ink. It took persistence. They changed their idea to carbon sequestering paint, since that covers more surface area.

See if you can find the compound or chemical that may be added to paint to suck CO2 out of the air.

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