Posted in Inquiry, Research, Search, Trends

Teaching Students How to Conduct Inquiry-Driven Research

If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?

– Albert Einstein

Teaching Students How to Conduct Inquiry-Driven Research

It always starts with a question. Most of the time there is a simple answer to that question.

  • What time does the store open?
  • How do I get to that city from here?
  • What was the name of that actress that played in that movie?

But a lot of times our questions don’t have an easy answer to them. That is an answer that can be found within one, or two searches. For these answers to our more complex questions we need to know how to search, or what most call research. But research is really nothing more than asking a question that requires the person, or persons who are asking the question to search for an answer (Jonassen, 2011). And what usually happens, is that one question leads to another. The goal is to collect as much data to draw and then support a logical conclusion, or answer, to your question(s) (Jonassen, 2011).

Research as Meaningful Learning

Technology that is used to support meaningful learning that engages and facilitates deeper levels of thinking does not include using technology as delivery vehicles (Jonassen, 2011). Meaningful learning with technology:

  • Supports knowledge construction for both representing learner’s ideas, understandings and beliefs as well as for producing organized, multimedia knowledge bases by the learner.
  • Is a vehicle that supports the exploration of knowledge by supporting and constructing information to compare perspectives, beliefs, and worldviews. (Jonassen, 2011).

Searching for Information requires the learner to acquire multiple skills. Effective information gathering from the Internet combines expertise in searching for information and also assessing the worth of that information in order to organize it into something that is usable (Jonassen, 2011). Therefore, finding information on the Internet can be extremely challenging to students because of how much information is available.  Teaching students how to research for that information supports their exploration of knowledge and allows them to compare and contrast various perspectives, beliefs and worldviews on that information (Jonassen, 2011).

Teaching Research to Students

When we teach students how to search for information on the Internet it is important to consider three very important questions:

  • How do people enter items into a search engine query box?
  • How do they interpret those results?
  • How will that information be used? (Halavais, 2013)

Therefore this lesson on teaching students how to conduct inquiry-driven research addresses those questions and also seeks to educate the learners on how search engines work. The goal is to increase the learners search engine literacy by  advancing not only their searching skills, but also by educating them on how to compare the information that they are receiving through triangulation (Halavais, 2013; Jonassen, 2011).

A Question of Great Importance…to Most Teenagers

Who is more popular, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, or Beyoncé?

I love questions like this. You can’t just Google the question to find the answer to it. Believe it or not but this is a question that will require deep inquiry and research. Yes, we’re going to Google it. But we’re going to Google it in a way that teaches students how to conduct inquiry-driven research in which they will collect data that they will then use to draw and support a conclusion from.

Let Us Look at the Trends?

Popularity can be so subjective on its surface. However we can look a little deeper and agree that the more popular something, or someone in our case, is the more that people will be searching for it. And we can all agree that the place most people search for something is in a search engine. And the most popular and widely used search engine is Google.

Using Google Trends we can examine how people from all over the world are searching. With Trends we will be able to see how often a particular search-term is entered that is relative to the total search-volume across various regions of the world and in various languages. Trends is like having your finger on the pulse of the world.

Our interest  in the popularity of Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber and Beyonce can be easily looked at in Trends. A graph is returned charting the amount of searching of the three over the last ten years. Below the graph is where you can see the regional interest of each of them. This is important since it is also important to teach our students more of a global perspective on the topics that they are searching for.

The graph is interactive, so as you mouse-over it you are given a month-by-month account of each of the three artists’ search-volume. It gets particularly interesting in April 2008 when Miley Cyrus’ graph spikes for the first time. The graph doesn’t tell you why, it just gives you a date. This gives students the chance to figure it out on their own. It’s a digital puzzle that they get to put together themselves. What happened in April 2008 that caused her to jump in searches, or in February 2011 when Justin Bieber spiked to 100? That’s the students job to piece it all together.

Our Question Has Led to More Questions

After having the students look at their question through the Google Trends lens we are left with more questions than answers. Why did Justin Bieber spike? What happened in the summer of 2013 to make Miley’s search go through the roof? Why did Beyonce’s global interest begin to grow in the first half of 2008?

I haven’t answered the first question yet, remember, the who is more popular one? What I’ve done is added even more questions to my original question. Our inquiry is only beginning. It’s time that we introduce a Google Spreadsheet to the fun.

Data Collection Made Collaborative

We need a place to organize our data. On our Gsheet I have created a tab for each of the 3 artists. The students will work collaboratively to identify and collect the dates of a significant trend. That is when an artist sees an increase, or decrease, in searches. If an artist sees a rise in searches from the previous month we will color code the column green. If they see a decrease we will use red. This will give students an easier way to visualize their data. Once they have compiled their data in their GSheet it will be time to begin piecing the puzzle together.

Researching Credible Sources

Since this project has more to do with pop culture it might be best to use a credible newspaper, or magazine as our primary source of information. Students will use advanced searching techniques in Google to search for this information from credible sources only. They will use their GSheet to log the data that they research and provide a link back to the credible source.

As credible sources for this inquiry we will use the Los Angeles Times ( and the New York Times (

We will use a Google Site Advanced Search to search for our data on only those two specific sites. Since we want to find credible data and then corroborate that data with another credible source we may need to use a 3rd site just incase we can’t corroborate our data between the LA and NY Times.

Advanced Site Search

Once the students have identified some data to search for they will use Google to search only the LA and NY Times. To accomplish this they use an advanced search function know as a Site search.

Type – Justin Bieber – into the Google search box. Once the results load use the Search Tools to search by a specific date range.

This will return all mentions of Justin Bieber from the month of November, 2009, the first month that he begins to see an increase in his search-volume. In the results that are returned we learn that the Bieber’s appearance at a Long Island, New York mall caused a near riot and led to the police arresting somebody. Could this be the first moment where Bieber-mania was born?

Remember when I said that we may need a third site to search? Well in May, 2010 the Bieber sees a huge spike in his search-volume when he reaches 91. Searching both the LA and NY Times didn’t return any significant reason. I selected YouTube as my third site. YouTube is the 2nd most used search engine behind Google. When I searched YouTube with the string Justin Bieber in May 2010 I am greeted with the reason why we saw his spike. The Bieber was making the rounds on all of the major talk shows, including Oprah, Ellen and American Idol. The Bieber has hit the big times.

The Big So What?

While the topic we are researching isn’t scholarly, the methods that we are using are. This example that I am using was designed more for the upper/high school level student. But there are plenty of ways to modify it so that even our youngest students can begin to understand how searching works.

The World’s Favorite Color? – A great way to get our young students thinking about search and the world in which they live. This is also an amazing way to introduce graphs to our young learners. Teachers using this activity can ask inquiry-driven questions like what is the most popular searched for color and why might that be? Why is red so popular in the United States, and Green so popular in China? I don’t have the answer to these questions. But I can think of some advanced searches that I would use to begin finding out with my students. And for students learning how to write, why not use a Google Document to have them make predictions and write down their answers after you’ve taken them through a few advanced searches.

The World’s Most Popular Form of Government – Here’s a way to get students thinking globally about more than just one form of government. Inquiry-driven questions to begin asking are; why is socialism so popular in Cuba? Why isn’t democracy a widely searched term in the United States, but is in Bhutan? What happened in November, 2008 when democracy spiked to 100 and become more popular than socialism in searches for the first time?

These inquiry-driven questions can also be great jumping off points into students conducting research into various countries and dates in modern history.

Wrapping it Up

There is a lot to sink your teeth into here and you can literally spend hours playing in Google Trends comparing different search terms with each other and checking to see what is trending in other countries. This is why learning how to search is so important to learn and thus teach to our students. It’s kind of exciting, and a little scary, to think about just how much we can begin to learn just by seeing what people are searching for.

And if you thought that the Bieber, Beyonce and Cyrus example wasn’t very academic then I invite you to consider this. As you have students look over their data and compare the dates of search-volume spikes to the data they collect on what happened on those dates a very clear picture will begin to form. That picture will teach your students more about digital leadership, and responsibility than any canned lesson that is contained on one of those websites that is dedicated to the topic. The reason, the students use inquiry-driven research to piece together a very clear puzzle that they are able to draw their own conclusions from. That’s powerful learning through powerful researching that just can’t be done by watching a video. I invite you to see if you and your students can put that puzzle together for themselves.

Works Cited

Halavais, Alexander. Search engine society. John Wiley & Sons, 2013.

Jonassen, David H. Meaningful learning with technology. Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall, 2011.

13 thoughts on “Teaching Students How to Conduct Inquiry-Driven Research

  1. Evan, a fantastic set of lesson ideas! I’m going to use this with teachers the next time I get a chance. It’s an example of how the affordances of the technology open up new possibilities for transformation, or, more specifically for redefinition, on the SAMR model.

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