By Grandgenett, Neal | Mathematics and Computer Education, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview
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Grandgenett, Neal, Mathematics and Computer Education


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I know. I know. You've used Google many times to do a web search and you never really thought much about it, especially about the posibility that it could help you in your pofessional responsibilities teaching mathematics and computer education. If that's the case, you're probably using just a tiny fraction of one of the most powerful software programs ever designed. For example, did you know that Google could help you find images for tests? definitions of mathematics and computer science terms? that it can do scholarly searches of journal articles and professional papers? or measurement conversions? Google can also help you keep up-to-date on the news in your profession. You can even find the phone number of a colleague whose number you've misplaced. Google is a little more than 6 years old, and is often described as a "search mechanism". Although it is indeed that, it is also much more powerful than this label implies. You may have already noticed that it's one of the fastest websites on the web and is accessible from most any browser or computer platform connected to the Internet. That speed is why it uses a "plain-looking" home page, so that it can load all the more quickly. I typically connect to Google on a Macintosh computer with the Internet Explorer browser.

In my job as professor of mathematidcs education, one of the more useful features of Google that I use regularly is its image search capabilities. For searching images, the user can simply switch to the "image" search screen by clicking on "images" next to "web" on the main search page. If the user types in terms describing the visual(s) he wants, such as a "coordinate axis", thousands of such images linked to terms from around the web will display. This is an excellent way to find an image for a test, or class assignment, and it's saved me considerable time drawing figures such as coordinate axes, transversals, and geometric shapes. Like the main web search mechanism of Google, the image search mechanism also has an advanced feature screen that is accessible by clicking on "advanced image search". This level of searching allows more concise searches and enables the user to do such things as use exact phrases and logical operators, or limit the search to a particular file type (such as jpegs).

Google has a number of convenient features for those of us in mathematics and computer education. For example, the other day I used it to check a measurement conversion that a student had placed in the narrative of an independent study project he was doing. The student had written a story problem that referenced the number of 8-ounce cups in a 2-liter bottle. To help check the conversion, I went to the main Google search box and typed, "2 liters=? ounces" (without quotes when typed). Google quickly returned "2 liters = 67.6280451 US fluid ounces" and my conversion was located. Wow, pretty nice considering that I used to have to dig out such calculations from a book of conversions.

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