Searching: example 1

I have taken an example from a question by a student to illustrate some of the thinking that I find useful.

I'm interested in the topic of "using graphing software to teach algebra for high school students". I tired to narrow my topic down, for example "using graphing software to carry out mathematical investigations" but I found out that available resources were limited. Chris told me about scholar Google but still I was unable to find adequate and appropriate resources.

Often the key to finding the material you want is identifying the key terms or tags used to talk about the specific content. These terms can sometimes vary from country to country.

So I think there are probably two key sets of words that may likely be used by others to write about this interest: "graphing software" "mathematical investigations". I put them into a simple Google search, both terms in quotes separated by a space. You can follow along by doing the same thing in a separate tab. In a simple Google search you can turn up papers that are published and unpublished, conference papers, notes in Wikis, blog posts and so on. While a particular hit may not be that useable, it may have links to references that are. Searching is very much like playing detective.

Back to our search. Up pops 300+ hits. OK. Let's look at the top few:

InterMath | Workshop Support | Instructors' Section | | Algebra‎
… that incorporate technology-enhanced mathematical investigations; Develop a … C. Participants explore investigations using graphing software and graphing …

So this looks like it may have resources for teachers. The url suggests a university in the US ( So. Probably worth a look.

[PDF] View - University of Cambridge‎
by S Hennessy - ‎1999 - ‎Cited by 30 - ‎Related articles
through using graphic calculators and graphing software on microcomputers. ….. school students carried out a whole range of mathematical investigations using …

This looks useful. It is a bit dated but that can be useful in two ways. Have things changed much since then other than the software/hardware? And, it may be cited by other papers which I can find using Google scholar. In other words, if this paper and it looks to be a lit review which is always a good find, it will have a lot of references about this topic. So a key find. Potentially.

Another pdf. So a paper of some kind. This is in 2012, 13 years on. A useful paper for comparison purposes maybe? icme in the URL looks like it may be from a maths ed, the me bit at the end in the URL organisation/conference.

[PDF] Technology Enhanced Mathematical Investigations – The …‎
by CH Orrill - ‎Related articles
Technology Enhanced Mathematical Investigations – The InterMath Project …. shown using dynamic graphing software by writing equations in terms of the …

This hit identifies another possible word set: "technology enhanced". Might be worth trying some searching in the way I began: "technology enhanced" "mathematical investigations". What other terms might be similar to "mathematical investigations"? I could try "mathematics projects", "problem solving in mathematics" and so on.

The important point is not to see one approach, e.g. the GU library or Google or Google scholar as a kind of one stop shop. The Internet is a mess. It is not tidy. You have to be flexible and think around what you find and follow leads. Developing your search skills is a really important part of doing postgraduate work. How you think about information online has a huge influence on what you do.

The other kinds of questions I'd be thinking about are: who are the gurus (if any) in this field? Are there any research centres that have a focus on this topic?

Then I might look at Twitter. Yes Twitter. A search for the term graphing calculators pulls up a lot of tweets. There look to be some folk who have that as their interest. I can follow them or set up a column in Tweetdeck to filter out every occurrence of "graphing calculators" as they happen.

I might also have a look at Google's ngram viewer, which plots the frequency of terms in books relative to one another over time. I can try some of the other phrases as well. Ngram viewer suggests that the graphing calculator began to appear in books around 1980. That helps frame my thinking a little more.

Another thing I might try is a Google blog search1. I try our two terms again: "graphing software" "mathematical investigations" and pull up noting except the Intermath workshop from the simple Google search. But, it does suggest that I can set up a Google alert to keep an eye out for any blog post that mentions these two sets of words. So if there are folk writing blogs in and around these ideas I need to work out some of the phrases they are using. So I try "graphing software" on its own and get 6,000 hits. Now many of these will be written by teachers about how they are using such software but some will often gesture to a book, a paper or a conference that is worth chasing down.

I hope at this point you have a sense that searching is a bit of an art now. In my experience there are search Ninjas and search clumsies. You need to be aiming to become a search Ninja2.