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Lesson 3: Rabbit Holes

Updated: May 6

Having explored the explicit features of different types of websites in the previous lesson, this lesson takes students down the rabbit hole of search engine optimization to explain the way that some types of websites lead them to a whole host of seemingly random places.  As a design driver, search engine optimization (SEO) is an often invisible feature of online networks.


By the end of this lesson, students will: 

  • Understand the ways that search engines work.

  • Understand search algorithms as a design driver of the web. 

  • Become aware of the rabbit hole effect, why it happens, and how to manage the risks associated with it.

  • Understand the idea of “click bait.”

  • Make network-to-self connections about the kinds of “rabbit holes” that they have experienced, with an opportunity to reflect on why. 


Overview of Ontario Curriculum Connections in this Lesson


A2: Digital Media Literacy

  • A2.3: Research and Information Literacy

  • A2.4: Forms, Conventions and Techniques

  • A2.5: Media, Audience and Production

B2: Language Foundations for Reading and Writing

  • B2.2 Vocabulary

C3: Critical Thinking in Literacy

  • C3.2: Making Inferences

  • C3.3: Analyzing Texts

  • C3.5: Perspectives within Texts


Background Knowledge for Teachers: Search Engine Optimization

Google is an advertising company. They created the world’s most widely used search engine called Google Search. Google Search is proprietary information — so nobody (except the people who run Google) really knows exactly how Google Search sorts the results we all see on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). However, people know enough about how it works to try to “game” the system by optimizing their pages so that they are more often found. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) enables sites to rise up closer to the top of the SERP in a way that seems “organic” but that is really quite contrived. 


Google search results are not just ordered on the SERP in terms of relevancy. This is a myth that many grade 4-6 students believe, but this is not how Google organizes results. Paid results appear first on any SERP. Paid results are results that companies have paid to appear at the top of the page when certain keywords are entered into the search engine. Organic results appear after the paid results, but the order of organic results is based on a complicated and well-kept secret formula that nobody really knows because it is Google’s intellectual property. 


Factors such as where a person lives, their age, and their search history will influence what results the SERP provides in response to any query. What food-bloggers know, however, is that search engines are most likely to find and serve up their content if they “optimize” it. This means, they intentionally place lots of keywords near the top of their pages or in other locations throughout their pages where the search engines can quickly locate “relevant” phrases that align with the search query. This is search engine optimization (SEO) and it is why there is often so much information — and even information that doesn’t seem that relevant — on food blogs, in this case, before you find the recipe you’re looking for. 


Materials:

Connected device, pencil and paper for recording findings.


Lesson 3 Activities

3A. Critical Search

Starting with the Bake Sale poems in Seeking Draven, students will then do a search for ‘the world’s best chocolate chip cookies’ and actively analyze the SERP and see if they can spot SEO tactics on food blogs. 


Bake Sale


  • Pre-reading: Prepare students for reading the poem bake sale by asking whether they have ever found themselves looking for information on the Internet, only to find that they get distracted by something that they didn’t think they wanted to know? 

  • Ask them to consider why the Internet is organized like this. Record their thoughts, connections, wonderings and insights on chart-paper or on the whiteboard (wherever you capture ideas generated by students). 

  • Drawing on the idea of network and on the students’ understanding of the different features and purposes of websites, ask students to consider how the seemingly miscellaneous assortment of links and connections might actually be by design and what that might be about…


Read the poem Bake Sale 2 from Seeking Draven with students.  


Bake Sale (2 of 3)

The recipe for the WORLD’S BEST Chocolate Chip Cookies thinks I need to know the story of The world’s 🥇grandma, and how butter works, and

How apple cider vinegar can remove skin tags,

And to be sure to preheat the oven.

How MC Escher drew mushrooms too,

And the Top Ten ways to keep brown sugar from drying out.

How trees are all connected,

And the trick of warming the milk first.

Avatar generators so that my eyes can be bigger.

I have to know all of this,

And that Jet and Petra were caught kissing.

When all I really need is a cookie recipe

To save the planet.

I click on the avatar generator. 


Teagan, the main character in Seeking Draven, was looking for the recipe of the World’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookies, but the web page where she found the recipe was full of weird information.  

  • Question for students: What weird information does she find there? 

  • Invitation for analysis: 

    • Invite students to identify all of the miscellaneous information that Teagan encountered on this site. 

    • Ask students WHY this recipe site would have had all of this weird information. 


As part of the discussion, explain the logic of search engine optimization. 


How do food bloggers get you to pick their ‘click-bait’ recipe? Why do they use these kinds of titles? How do they try to make money? (Answer: through advertising and affiliate links embedded into content.) 


Read the poem Bake Sale 3. 


Bake Sale (3 of 3)

On the table are the Top Ten Bake Sale Ideas

To save the planet.

Hamina’s    🍫 covered pretzels.

Timmy’s     🦄 bark.

Joachim’s    3D 🦖 cookies.

Rebecca’s    icing cream 🍦 🍦 🍦.

I should have asked Tab and not Dad for ideas.

The internet makes everything better.

My cookies are beside the Rice Krispy squares.

Rice Krispy square boy doesn’t have a phone.

Doesn’t know better.

Mine sell

Last.


Discussion:

Given the outcome, what does this say about the validity of the title of her recipe?

Click bait? What does this mean?


Social Media Sites and Algorithms

Social media sites like YouTube and TikTok track our interactions with their content. The things we like, the accounts we subscribe to, the amount of time we spend interacting with particular posts is all accounted for. This data gives them important insights that they can use to predict what we might like to interact with next. These platforms create an environment where the content they provide is well-aligned with our interests, and often, well-aligned with what gets us activated. If we like, or love, or dislike a post, we’re also telling the social media network about our feelings, which in turn, tells them more about who we are, and what we care about. 


In Seeking Draven, the author makes light of this in the poem Tab Joke, in which it’s clear that the phone (Tab) still thinks it is owned by Teagan’s father.


Tab Joke

Tab promises to fix my hair loss

But it’s Dad who is balding.

Tab is learning I exist. 


Lesson 3 Reflection:

Lesson 3 explains how the exploration of networks through search engines isn’t random and that this mechanism has risks and opportunities that can be manipulated. What rabbit holes have the students been down themselves? What has been their way in?

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