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Pros: Students get help researching topics with access to safe, accurate source information.
Cons: The tool lacks a personalized experience, and it could do more to illustrate the difference between substantiated and unsubstantiated sites.
Bottom Line: SweetSearch supplies valid, reputable websites that can help kids learn about a variety of topics.
SweetSearch would be a great tool for middle school and early high school students to develop their research skills. The homepage offers a few links to additional resource sites: SweetSource4Me search engine for elementary school students; SweetSearch2Day with a daily selection of science, news, and more; a link for educators to classroom management resources; a page with more than 1,000 biographies; and a social studies page that lists helpful sites and guides.
The homepage of this student search engine is pretty sparse: The search field is the main visual element. Kids simply type in a term and get a list of search results. The results pull from 35,000 websites proactively reviewed by research experts, librarians, and teachers to ensure they’re reliable information sources. Many are from educational institutions, government organizations, or publications like the New York Times. Some link to findingDulcinea.com, SweetSearch's sister site, which was also created to be a credible source for research. Results can still turn up opinion pieces and the occasionally irrelevant article, which allows students to continue developing critical thinking and research skills in this more protected online space.
SweetSearch eliminates all the noise kids may come across on search sites like Yahoo and Google and provides a simple, generally safe way to accurately research topics. Kids may still stumble across some questionable content –- for example, CrimeLibrary.com pops up in crime-related searches. It’s hard to find much academic value in the site’s photo gallery of serial killer victims shortly before their deaths. However, for the most part, SweetSearch’s site recommendations are helpful and student-friendly.
Teachers can feel pretty confident that kids using SweetSearch will find valuable and relevant research materials for class activities and projects. Although it is something of a "walled garden," the results aren't filtered to the point of eliminating all need for critical thinking skills. Students will still have to determine credibility, purpose, and relevance of each source.