Sparking Trends In The Classroom With Google Trends

I spend a decent amount of time each week researching content for both our website and blog, as well as to stay on top of what’s happening in education and this week has been no different. After browsing the usual sites and Twitter accounts, I found myself back at an old favourite; Google Trends. A couple of ‘oo, that’s interesting!’ exclamations and a few “huh” noises later, I’ve managed to lose the best part of an hour clicking through different topics and metrics, fascinated by the sheer level of data. I was feeling inspired, but still had no topic to write on. This is when I realised that Google Trends was the topic.

The extent to which the Internet has become an integrated part of daily life will never stop amazing me; to get my research kicks as a teen I’d have to hang around in libraries reading encyclopedias, which was generally a lot less convenient. The more I think about Google Trends in particular, the more I am certain it has a huge amount to offer schools as a tool for the classroom and so here’s a few ideas to mull over (and with Easter just around the corner, it’s an ideal time to think about lesson planning while gorging on chocolate).

Supporting arguments with basic data comparisons

I was completely guessing with my examples here, but I entered two of what I believe to be the most popular musicians in pop culture (please correct me if I’m massively outdated). A fan of Taylor Swift might be convinced that she is the most talked-about pop star above all others in the world.

You could talk about approaching this anecdotally of course, but why risk it when Google trends can give you a definitive answer based on Internet searches? Using the parameters of worldwide searches over the past 12 months, you can see that the Taylor Swift fan would, in fact, be disappointed to learn that the Internet prefers Ed Sheeran. And that’s despite a huge spike in interest for the former around May 2017. Sorry, Tay.

Identifying patterns

Here’s a fun one; choose a trend and a location and look at data from the past five years (or more, Google allows you to travel back to 2004 to mine data). You can make this as obvious or obscure as you like, the key is giving students the chance to spot patterns and assess the relationship between peaks and troughs in those patterns. Take a look at this chart taken from searches conducted in the UK over the past five years.

Every single year, searches peak around June-July. You could hypothesise that it’s parents looking for back to school supplies ahead of the late summer rush. Perhaps it’s people looking to buy festival supplies ahead of the summer’s biggest ones in August. The answer however, is a little bit more ‘last minute’. Imagine a hot, sunny July afternoon and you realise there’s no shade in the garden. Apparently gazebo is quite the last minute search term when summer is already underway. You don’t even have to tell students what the answer is; encourage them to come up with their own narration to the trend and see what they come up with.

Making predictions

The next step on from identifying patterns is to make predictions based on these patterns. Here’s a 12-month record of searches for the term figure skating. 

It might be obvious to some that the term has spiked early in 2018 to coincide with the winter Olympics, but would a younger audience know that there was a similar spike in 2014 and 2010? Based on this very brief snap shot of time combined with the search term, ask students to predict what the pattern might be over the next five and then 10 years. If you were to look even further back in the data you would indeed see that an almost identical spike in searches occurs every four years…coinciding with the winter Olympics.

I could easily talk about fun with Google Trends for several blogs, but part of the fun of this underrated tool is getting stuck in and finding things for yourself; it really is very easy to use. If you’ve found an innovative way to use Trends in your classroom, we’d love to hear from you!