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Playing with Boolify’s search training wheels

A couple of days ago, Kate (see last post), introduced me to Boolify, a project of the Public Learning Media Laboratory

Still in Beta, the tool puts a sturdy pair of search training wheels on Google and might be just what the young searcher needs.

Boolify is designed to teach elementary and middle school students the basics of a good search.  The visual clues help learners develop a mental model of the logic behind the search process.

Green pieces ask searchers to enter keywords or phrases, blue pieces are ANDs, red pieces are NOTs, and yellow pieces are ORs.  Searchers may choose and switch among a general Web, news, or an image search.

The About page describes the site’s purpose:

Librarians, teachers and parents have told us how hard it is for students to understand web searching. Boolify makes it easier to for students to understand their web search by illustrating the logic of their search, and by showing them how each change to their search instantly changes their results.

It’s simple, immediate and easy and flexible to use with your class, no matter the subject matter.

Search results are presented through Google’s "Safe Search STRICT" technology.

The drag and drop nature of Boolify’s puzzle piece metaphor makes it just perfect for SmartBoard demos and for tactile student interaction.   (Forgive my example, Tampa Bay fans!)

The site includes a few curricular documents:

  • Evaluating Websites and other information sources – [doc]
  • Using Basic Boolean Search Operators (And, Or, Not) – [doc]  (Very similar to my PowerTools Boolean Aerobics activity!)
  • Refining search results – [doc]

I love the way Boolify provides guided practice for young searchers.  In fact, I am planning to use the site for spontaneous instruction when my high school students need reminders about why their database searches sometimes flop.

But for those who use the site as a primary search tool, I wonder what happens when we/they remove the training wheels.

You can actually practice Boolean precision in the advanced search area of Google and with the use of operators, but despite my best efforts, few of my high school students will go that extra mile.

Those strategies are essential in our lovely databases, but I wonder if learners used to Boolified searches will be confused when their efforts don’t seem as effective (or as necessary) in basic Google

By default, Google returns all your search terms, compensating with an assumed AND. 

And will students transfer their green puzzle piece phrase strategies to quotation marks?

Boolify’s training wheels are a very cool learning strategy for younger students.  High school librarians will have to do a little translating to complete the search puzzle for older learners.

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. I just started to collaborate with a teacher on a biography unit and we were discussing how to reenergize the lesson on constructing effective internet searches. Thanks for this timely resource!

  2. wheel rim says:

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