Getting to Know Search Engines – Ask Kids (aka Ask Jeeves)

askjeeves screen shotI’m back on to acquainting myself with the many search engines available. Funny that once you start looking there are so many more than you’d imagine.

Ask Jeeves was an old favourite of mine. I used to recommend it to the kids in primary school because it coped with them typing  in a whole question. It picks out the keywords and searches for them. But it used to be pretty limited in its relevant results and very American-oriented so we dropped off using it.

It’s now called Ask Kids and has ‘grown up’ some since I used it last.

The home page is really kid friendly and clean (no advertising at all). Once in a search there are sponsored websites but no advertising. I tested both natural language (What endangered animals are there in Australia?) and keyword (volcano causes) searches.

Once you’ve hit the search button, the next screen offers you some broader and narrower search term options in a side bar(the Australian animals search options were not Australian however) and then the search results in the main body of the page.  There was much more success with the volcano search than the Australian animal question – it still appears to be heavily slanted to American audiences. The first 5 hits I did get for Australian endangered species were:

  • Kids’ Planet – to be searched by continent – ‘grey wolves’ were incorrectly listed under the Australian continent! and the fact sheets for most of the animals were general not Australian specific. (Info quality – poor).
  • a dead link to a public library homework page
  • Perth Zoo with some species listed in their conservation program

So overall a disappointing result. But Boolean searching using keywords ‘endangered animals OR species’  brought up different and better results.

I had much better luck with volcanoes. First 5 hits included:

  • ThinkQuest
  • Cascades Volcano Observatory
  • Volcano Live (website of John Search scientist and volcano adventurer)
  • Staffordshire Learning Net Web Enquiry (webquest)

Ask Kids also offers options to search ‘images’ and ‘video’. Again the first question had poor results, the volcano search results were much better.

One feature I really missed on this site was knowing the total number of hits for a search. It always helps me to gauge if the student is searching too broadly or narrowly.

Ask Kids has other areas including one called ‘The Schoolhouse” which features databases by subject area. I searched here too and found useful information for both topics.

Overall, this search engine performs best  if keyword searching and Boolean search strategies are used. It seems to be well pitched for middle primary to lower secondary or for ESL students. Subjects still need to be fairly general in order to get decent search results.

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