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Teachers as Curators of Learning

Suzie Boss

Journalist and PBL advocate
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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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Kristen Perez 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Suzie,
I can totally relate to your description of a teacher sifting through 3,000,000 google sites trying to find something useful on the internet!

I have managed to find a few 'gems' to curate my students' learning.

I am a high school Spanish teacher and my district is currently working on incorporating performance based tasks and assessments to match our performance based standards. I found a sight that is rich with cultural information and highly engaging to students while providing performance based tasks. It's by the BBC. The link is http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/spanish/mividaloca/ The site has web-isodes that take you on a trip through Spain where you have to talk to the people and ask questions to figure out the mystery. My students love it! Each episode is 10-15 minutes long and provides opportunities for students to speak in real-life (albeit simulated) situations. (you have to preview them like anything else, one or two of the episodes have wine in them) Other than that they are terrific for a high school Spanish class. We watch them altogether on a Promethean Board, but they could be done individually in a lab as well.

Erin Middendorf's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I often times find myself overwhelmed when dealing with the daunting task of surfing the net to find useful and engaging websites to incorporate into my curriculum. I almost always happen upon great websites by accident or through word of mouth. One of my favorite "go to" sites is www.brainpop.com. I teach seventh grade science, so there is a plethora of great, short videos that my students absolutely love. At the end of each video there is a quiz--I make them interactive through the use of a 3M projector (with SMARTboard capabilities). It is a great way to assess learning and the kids love being able to come up to the board and select an answer.

Another great resource for a wide variety of subject areas is
http://discoveryeducation.com/. The site has interesting, informational video clips of everything under the sun. The only negative of both of these websites is you must have a subscription to view the videos. My school recently obtained a subscription to both websites, and in my opinion, they are well worth the investment. They offer welcomme alternatives to learning from a book.

Kate Amunrud's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have found word of mouth to be the best way to find high quality educational internet sites. I am an elementary teacher and I like to discuss current events with my students. The website http://www.news-2-you.com does an excellent job of creating high interest stories that focus on current events. It provides the material at a variety of reading levels. The difficult part is that it also requires a subscription.

V. Navarro's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Please utilize your school librarian. Librarians love to find great web sites for teachers to use with their students.Give them enough time to search and I bet they will find some great sites for you.
When in doubt, ask a librarian.
This post is from an unbiased middle school librarian in Iowa.

Susan Payne's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Some of the best sites I have found came to me via my Professional Learning Network on Twitter. Once you find some good people to follow, the wealth flows right to you. Things you didn't even know you were looking for will show up at just the right time. Amazing!

Christine Zanoni's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello, fellow educators!

I have two recommendations. Even if you don't teach in Ohio, I highly recommend www.ohiorc.org. The site has links to full lesson plans connected to content standards (which will probably be, at least, similar to other states) and are either peer reviewed as "best practice" or "promising practice". You can also find professional and assessment resources. Search by topic and grade level. I would liken it to a clearinghouse of sorts.

The other recommendation I have is to use an online bookmark site (I use the free www.backflip.com) so that I can access the sites I love from any computer. Since becoming an administrator, I've also set up a "school" account that all teachers can share from any computer, adding to the folders as they find new and useful resources.

Now, any resources for using the Smartboard? We just got them installed this week and I'm searching for the best ones!

Cyndi Danner-Kuhn's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Twitter is also a valuable resource for me. I learn something from it everyday. But, that didn't begin until I added a desktop client for Twitter. I use Tweetdeck (www.tweetdeck.com/). I really disliked having to go the Twitter website to check for updates, but I leave Tweetdeck open in the background on my desktop always and I can read explore resources and of course, share at my own convenience.

Another extremely valuable online resource is Del.icio.us. I use Del.icio.us social bookmarking tool to keep track and make resources available anywhere, anytime from any computer. I use is multiple times every day!! I even go so far as say it is an addiction.

The third useful resource is a variety of technology newsletters, blogs and podcasts. I even create a newsletter now myself and share with my colleagues in the College of Education at Kansas State University, my students and classroom teachers. Feel free to subscribe and access the archives at: http://www.cyndidannerkuhn.info/CDK/Newsletter.html.

Blogs I recommend:
Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer: http://www.speedofcreativity.org/
2C/ Worth by David Warlick: http://davidwarlick.com/2cents/
GenYes Sylvia Martinez, Dennis Harper, Megan Evander: by http://blog.genyes.com/
EdYech Vision by Colette Cassinelli: http://edtechvision.org/
Driving Questions by Kevin Honeycutt: http://kevinhoneycutt.org/
Cool Cat Teacher by Vicki Davis: http://coolcatteacher.blogspot.com/
Durff's Blog by Lisa Durff: http://durffsblog.blogspot.com/
Free Technology for Teachers by Richard Bryne: http://www.freetech4teachers.com/

Podcasts I recommend
Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer
Driving Questions by Kevinn Honeycutt
EdTech Talk, there are a variety of podcasts and presenters, all are excellent although Ed Tech Weekly is my personal favorite: http://edtechtalk.com/

I think the trick is spend a little time each day learning and exploring!! I just make time for it and in the long run it benefits my teaching.

Eleanore Miller, Ed.D.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Interestingly, I just blogged on this subject myself yesterday, although from a somewhat different perspective. Since I teach at the post-secondary level now, it has been interesting to me that learners--including graduate students--are unable to differentiate between "good" information and "bad" information. Part of that may be because, at the K-12 level, teachers act too much like curators of information rather than like expert advisors of information selection and evaluation. There may be a paucity of good information available on the internet; but there is definitely too little information related to what / to teach and how / to teach about evaluating / that information.

To read my thoughts about information, feel free to visit my blog at http://blog.emillereducation.com .

Boni 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

If you've not checked out TeachersFirst.com, make it a priority. They search the web for you, collect the best resource links in one place, and organize them into a searchable collection. All resources have grade levels, annotations about the site, and recommendations for how to use them in the classroom. That includes interactive sites, interactive whiteboard resources, Web 2.0 sites, and tutorials and/or examples when the site is for the adventurous technology user. I've published a book on technology integration for the elementary school (IT's Elementary! Integrating Technology in the Primary School -- www.iste.org) and TF finds sites I've never heard of! It should be a first stop!!!

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