Lesson plan: Exploring Google Trends

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The best way to learn how cars work is to lift the hood and tinker with the engine -- and Google, while not allowing us to monkey with its prized search algorithms, Google Trends does provide access to some fascinating analytical tools that many teens find fun and fascinating.

Google Trends is a neat tool that’s been around for years. It offers data on the search terms people used in Google searches, and can often be eye-opening.

For instance, the folks at Google performed their own analysis of the search term “how do you spell” in an effort to discover the most-misspelled words in America. They posted the results in map form, broken down by state:

map of most misspelled words in america by state

What does the map tell us about these searches? Why do so many people in Pennsylvania need to use the word “cancelled?” What is up with those “leprechaun” searches? And why on earth are people in Massachusetts struggling to spell “Massachusetts”?

Google Trends gets particularly interesting (and entertaining) when multiple search terms are used. Political candidates, pop stars, smartphones, you name it. Exploring Google Trends is very much a hands-on exercise, and is super for people with visual learning styles (Google presents the results in charts and graphs).

Google handles around 100 million searches per day. It has become a central part of our society, our most important method for finding information. By exploring Google Trends, we can learn something about humanity’s interaction with information and knowledge, and maybe the state of mind of users who are entering their search terms.

In truth, there’s no way to know just how seriously we should take the data provided by these searches, although it should be noted that major news organizations have started posting search data on candidates alongside polling in their election coverage. But whatever the significance of Google Trends, it’s certainly a fascinating piece of technology -- and a fun one, too.

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