I got a panicked email from a teacher friend last Thursday.  It read:

“Bill…you’ve got to help me.  I’m using your book and wanted to show my students how to target their research projects using Google’s Wonder Wheel.  Then, I come in this morning and the Wonder Wheel is gone. 

Now what am I supposed to do?”

My first reaction was to groan simply because disappearing tools is one of my greatest fears as the author of a book on technology.  In fact, if you ask the Solution Tree folks, they’ll tell you they had to twist my arm to get me to write a book on technology because I was afraid to be the author of an outdated title.

That’s also why the majority of my book is focused on skills—-problem solving, communication, collaboration, information management—-instead of tools. Skills rarely change.  Tools are constantly changing.

My second reaction was, “Why in the world would Google get rid of such a great tool for researching?”

The answer—which I learned only after poking around for about 45 minutes—is that they haven’t.  Instead, the Wonder Wheel—which automatically breaks broad concepts down into related subtopics—has simply ended up hidden because of a new service that Google rolled out called Google Instant.

Google Instant displays search results automatically while you’re typing—and I’m not sure why, but Google’s Wonder Wheel doesn’t appear in the search sidebar when Google Instant is activated.

If you want to see the Wonder Wheel, you’ve got to turn Google Instant off by clicking the small “Instant is On” link next to the search box on any search results page.  After making that change, you’ll be able to search “the old fashioned way” and to find the Wonder Wheel in the sidebar of the search results page again.

I know it’s a bit of a pain—I’m still trying to figure out why Google would want to hide one of it’s most valuable tools—but at least the Wonder Wheel isn’t gone forever!  That would be a real disaster.

If you’re a teacher who hasn’t played with the Wonder Wheel yet, you’re missing out!  Check out this lesson—which I included in Teaching the iGeneration—to learn more about how it can be a great tool for helping students to focus their research projects.

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