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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Teachers as Curators of Learning

Suzie Boss

Journalist and PBL advocate

Quick: Name ten excellent Web sites related to the grade level or subject area you teach.

Scott McLeod, coordinator of the educational-administration program at Iowa State University, recently posed that question on his blog, Dangerously Irrelevant. Many of the comments his readers left echo McLeod's assertion that the Internet delivers "a paucity of high-quality online resources for educators."

McLeod and others don't deny the abundance of online resources teachers have at their fingertips. The challenge is sifting through all that stuff to find what you need -- and then knowing how to incorporate the gems into your curriculum.

Teacher Dan Meyer compares the modern educator's quest to mining: He argues that only a small fraction of the country's three million teachers "have come back from those Internet hills with gold, looking haggard from the extra hours they put in beating these disparate resources into some kind of instructional shape."

He should know. Meyer liberally invests his own time to create high-interest visual resources that open learning opportunities for his math students. (See the related Edutopia.org blog post "Teaching with Visuals.") He likens what he does to curating: arranging chosen pieces into an order and structuring a compelling question around them.

That's an interesting way to think about instructional design. When I consider the museum exhibits I remember most vividly, I can see how the curator has directed my attention to particular details, patterns, or nuances. Sometimes it's the story behind the painting that grabs my interest. Or it might be a biographical detail about the artist that stays with me. Good curators work in the background, but their influence is powerful. Like artful teachers, they make critical decisions, raise questions, challenge assumptions, and provoke responses.

Now that I think about it, one of the Web sites on my own top 10 list encourages exactly this role of teacher as curator. Google Lit Trips mashes up the study of great literature with the interactive technology of Google Earth. (To learn more, read, "Google Lit Trips: Bringing Travel Tales to Life" here at Edutopia.org.)

As students read great travel stories -- from the Odyssey to The Grapes of Wrath to Into the Wild -- they trace the protagonist's journey, interacting with visual or historical information their teacher has included in Google Earth placemarks. The award-winning Google Lit Trips site was created by Jerome Burg, a veteran educator. He recently retired, but he's continuing to curate learning -- for students, as well as his colleagues -- by expanding this rich site with new resources.

Which resources do you find most useful for curating your students' learning?

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