Review by Polly Conway, Common Sense Education | Updated September 2013


Research anything with customizable mind mapper

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Teachers say (4 Reviews)
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5-12 This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Pros: The Difficulty bar allows you to adjust complexity for different ages and levels.

Cons: It's not as intuitive as it could be, and help is hard to find.

Bottom Line: It's a great introduction to the research process, and non-linear learners will really benefit from the map format.

You can use instaGrok to introduce students to non-linear learning options. Some kids respond really well to this kind of visual information map, and all kids can have fun using this method to research any subject. It's great for history, civics, or even English classes, and the information that pops up in each grok is of good quality. However, you may want to talk to kids about which sources to trust online. 

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InstaGrok is a website that describes itself as a "search engine for learners." Type any term into the search bar, and an interactive map, called a grok, appears. Each grok is made up of many bubbles, which branch off from the original search item. If you search for pizza, the map's bubbles will contain things like crust, sauce, and oven. If you click on one of those words, a text box explaining those specific subjects will appear. Hit More on the left-hand side of the screen for Key Facts, and adjust the sliding Difficulty bar to customize the grok's complexity for particular age groups or educational levels. Tab over to the Journal section and take notes, pin items, or add photos.

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To grok, a made-up word from the sci-fi classic Stranger in a Strange Land, now means to understand thoroughly and intuitively. InstaGrok presents information as an interactive visual interface that could work well for kids who have difficulty comprehending linear progressions of information. It looks fine, but its design isn't quite as clean as some of its competitors'. It's slightly tricky to figure out at first, and help isn't easily accessible. Once kids get the hang of it, however, they should enjoy creating a customized grok for a class project or even one on a favorite subject just for fun. The Difficulty bar sets instaGrok apart from the many other visual mind-mapping sites. That and its ability to eliminate links with profanity make it extra kid-friendly.

Kids can learn research skills as well as detailed information about the subject of their choice. They'll learn how to process information in a non-linear way and will also figure out how to organize the information that pops up in each grok. As kids view each connection, they'll decide how important it is to their research; do they need details on the ingredients of pizza crust, or do they need a history of pizza? Which should be closer to the main node? InstaGrok lets kids do lots of research without leaving the site, providing a safe and immersive experience.

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Design is clean, and kids will have lots of fun making groks of their hobbies and interests.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Kids will see content presented in a nonlinear way; what they do with their findings is up to them. They have a lot of freedom to tinker with groks, adding notes and sharing with friends through social media.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

There's a four-minute demo video (which isn't very kid-friendly) but no written help. InstaGrok does have an active Twitter feed and a Facebook page.

Common Sense Reviewer
Polly Conway Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
Kristin L. , Technology coordinator
Technology coordinator
Interactive Concept Map/Word Web on Steroids!

instaGrok is amazing! Not only is it simple to use but continually blows my mind with how much information is generated with the click of a button. I really like how you can choose a subject matter and then find further information about that subject as it relates to one specific aspect. For example, if I search for Michael Jordan I instantly receive biographical/general information. If I click on one of the concepts "webbing" out from the main topic, Michael Jordan, for example, career, I will get more information on Michael Jordan and his career. From there if I click on Chicago Bulls (as it has webbed out from career), I will find information on Michael Jordan and how it relates to his career with the Chicago Bulls. It is like a never ending concept map.

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