Wading through thousands, if not millions, of search results on the internet can take countless hours for both educators and students. Add to that the inability of many students to analyze critically the information they find on the web–and the tendency to believe everything they read to be true–and the result is often research reports filled with misinformation from sources that are not credible.

So, how can teachers and their students leverage the internet’s power to deliver only credible information that is relevant to the assignment at hand, quickly and easily? To answer this question, a growing number of schools are turning to an education-specific search engine called netTrekker, built by Cincinnati-based Thinkronize Inc.

Realizing the challenges educators face when trying to integrate the internet safely and effectively into their daily lessons, Thinkronize has created an online search engine built specifically with the needs of schools in mind. Unlike other mainstream search engines, such as the popular Google engine or Yahoo! search tool, netTrekker’s customized solution lets students and teachers conduct internet searches from an online repository of more than 180,000 educator-approved, standards-based, educationally relevant K-12 resources.

Here’s how it works. Using netTrekker, a student or teacher can type a term into the search bar, just as he or she would any other online search engine. NetTrekker’s technology then culls its online database for web site listings related to the search topic. What’s returned is a list of pre-approved web sites broken out by relevancy to both grade level and state standard, depending on the searcher’s preference. Educators looking for innovative ways to teach difficult concepts also can narrow their search by requesting that netTrekker return only those web site listings containing relevant lesson plans.

Kathy Platt, technology integration specialist for the Cobb County School District–Georgia’s second-largest school system, with more than 102,000 students currently enrolled–has called netTrekker “the best product to integrate our state standards into the core curriculum.”

With the growing importance of state standards in education, Platt said, the demand is increasing for resources that are aligned with state standards or are searchable by state standard.

“I am often asked to provide teachers with examples of technology-integrated resources that support specific academic improvement goals,” she said. “I use a variety of tools when searching for educational resources on the internet, but I prefer tools like netTrekker, & which allow teachers to search for resources by state standard.”

And she’s not alone. A number of educators have spoken out in favor of netTrekker’s ability to filter through the massive amount of content available on the internet, delivering only those resources that are relevant to teachers’ or students’ immediate educational needs.

That has been the experience in the Ysleta Independent School District in Texas, anyway. According to interim instructional technology director Micha Villarreal, whose testimonials are featured as part of the company’s sales pitch to customers, netTrekker’s technology has proven highly effective at distilling down the millions of hits students and teachers likely would receive as the result of a Google search to the 100 or 200 selections that are most relevant for use in the classroom.

For instance, when you do a search for “Alamo” on Google, Villarreal noted, you get more than two and a half million hits. The No. 1 return: the Alamo Rent-A-Car company. But when you run the same search with netTrekker’s engine, you get only about 300 hits–each of which is related directly to the historic San Antonio-based outpost made famous during the Spanish-American War.

What’s more, Villarreal said, the search results are “all educator-reviewed and aligned to state standards.”

And online searches account for just part of the full netTrekker experience. Subscribers also have access to a variety of other educational resources, including netTrekker’s timeline feature, which allows educators to create and share timelines chronicling notable periods in history–the Gilded Age, for example–marking significant dates and events with hotlinks to related web sites and other educator-approved content designed to increase students’ understanding of a given topic or lesson.

Teachers and librarians who use netTrekker in their schools agree: The service’s guided approach to internet research is far superior to using a generic search engine.

Tish Mulkey, assistant director for learning media services at Plano Independent School District in Texas, concluded, “I believe that good, authoritative resources can be found on the internet, but I also believe that a guided research approach is much better than just allowing surfing on the web. Our students get frustrated when they can’t find exactly what they are looking for–when they get eleven thousand hits on a topic that aren’t relevant.”



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