Thursday, March 1, 2012

Search Challenge 002

A very popular search challenge is the Kermit Challenge.

I'd rate this a novice challenge and a good one to introduce elementary level students to search strategy, search engines, keywords, snippets and urls.

When it was first created, we posted a time to beat of 10 minutes. The only thing that would ever take this long is an inability to describe in words what is in the picture. If someone failed to use the character's name, that could slow down the search.

 Today I lowered the time to beat to 5 minutes. It takes less than a minute if you know what you are looking for.

Search Strategy 
Start by asking, "what am I looking for?" The directions call for finding a URL of a matching picture of Kermit, a URL where Kermit can be heard talking. If students don't know what a URL is, this is a good opportunity to point to one. No need to define it, just call it the address where a page on the Internet lives. Show a URL.

Also part of the search strategy is, "what words do I already know that I could use to find the matching picture?" The most important is given in the directions: Kermit. This is a proper noun and as such, has a very specific meaning. We want to use words that have specific meanings--if we can--when looking for information on the Internet. Other words need to come from the picture. "What do you see in the picture?" Describe it. "What is Kermit wearing?" "At what kind of an event would you wear clothes like that?"

Search Engines 
Search engines use Keywords to find matching information. The engine used here is Yahoo. Students should know that there is more than one search engine (Google). You can put any combination of words in a search engine, but it's best to use just a few. The order of the words doesn't really matter. Like most searches today, this one does not require any Boolean operators, but I'd leave that topic for older grades.

Search engines return matches to your keywords on a page as snippets, shortened sections of text that include the URL of the page where matching words were found, maybe the date the page was last updated, some text from the page so you can see how the words are used, a link to the page and some other information that can be topics for older grades (cached, similar). Snippets are REALLY important in finding information that matches the keywords. The search engine just finds the words, you have to determine if the way the words are used makes sense. The top result may not be the best one. Snippets may also (often) contain better words than the ones you started with. Maybe the words commencement or graduation show up. That's where people wear caps and gowns. Those words could be put in a new query such as KERMIT GRADUATION.

A little more about URLS could be introduced, such as the parts of a URL and what they tell us. In this case, the answer has the name of the organization that owns the information and the names of several folders where that information is stored: first, a news folder. Inside the news folder is another folder called 'commence' and in that folder is another one labeled '1996.' Finally in that folder is the page that matches the challenge. This page is an .htm page which stands for the kind of file it is, a pretty common information file on the Internet.

Planting the seeds that information can be organized (structured) in folders is a good computational mindset to introduce. A discussion about how to organize information (one big pile, separate piles without names, all laid out in a row, etc.) might help students think about the fastest ways to find something and what works best on computers.

 Try the Challenge. Don't miss the opportunity for learning. What other lessons can you squeeze out of this experience?

2018 Update: The Kermit Challenge became quite a bit more difficult with Long Island University absorbed Southampton College and took down the latter's Website. The answer page has been updated accordingly.


InformationFluency said...

I revamped the Challenge today to improve the Flash coding. The most noticeable difference is that the timer has been removed. I'm not sure the timer is a necessary component, so it may start to disappear from other challenges as well.

InformationFluency said...

The Kermit Challenge is now accessible on iPhones and iPads. No more flash. Other Challenges to follow suit.