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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?

Comments (30)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Shannon's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

A couple of years ago I also was introduced to Max Teaching. I love the Cubing lesson for review before a test, and I have seen it done as an essay question where the student just has to pick one of the sides and write a paragraph about the topic. I have never used it for a research project but I bet it would give the students a nice outline to use. Once the students know they have to include all six of the sides they should not have a problem completing the project. If I were using this for the first time I probably would not have the students do all six of them, maybe only pick three then go on from there.

Mary Jo Gemelke's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I just wanted to take a minute to say thank you for this post. Because of everyone's generousity, I now have a lot of new resources to tap into when looking for new ideas for my students.

I tend to use Proteacher.com when I'm looking for differenet ways to engage my students...or if I'm stumped by something. If you have a question about something, you write a post and then people from all over the world can respond and help you out. Past ideas are also archived so that you can search for something that may have been posted in the past.

Denise Sto's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I couldn't agree more with this description. I get so overwhelmed with the information I find on the Internet. Some days I feel I hit a "vein" of usable information. Other days, I feel like it's mostly dross and rubble. I'm a studnet with Walden University and our assignment this week was to search blogs to see how we could interact and be a part of the technological community. This was a bit overwhelming too. There is so much out there, and my time is limited.

Sean Wybrant's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I found both your post on this blog and your own blog interesting and thought provoking. I browsed away on the web wondering where that line is between helping the students by modeling how to differentiate quality sources and just presenting them the best sites. As an English teacher I find that one of the problems we have today is that distinguishing between a credible source and a questionable source uses some different skills than it used to. Like you pointed out, people now have more access to information in a single minute than they used to have in hours of patient researching.

Do you think that part of the problem is that the teachers do not know themselves, in many cases, how to distinguish some of these sources with the rate the information is posted? How would you set up some professional development for teachers about either distinguishing sources or how to teach students about sources in a digital world? Do you think that we need to rethink what it means to be literate in the 21st century? I am switching levels and will be going to a high school where there are some teachers clinging to old beliefs about information and would love to hear comments from you, or anyone else.

Sean Wybrant
7th grade teacher - soon to be 11th grade teacher
Colorado Springs

Thelma's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The word discovery made me really think Dean,....it means attitude, way of looking at,.....silence,.... reflexion,......so, I think your comment is really useful. Regards Thelma

Lorna's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Dean

I agrees that as teachers we are the discoverers of learning, but we need to discover learning for ourselves before we can excite our student to discover it for themselves. However reading Will Richardsons book on Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, opened my eyes about the fact that we need to change a lot about how we present our curriculum as our students are reaching audiences far beyond our classrooms in the way they use technology. Sadly our school system does not allow us to be the discoverers and the teachers of discoverers we can be. Heres hoping that they will get with the program and be the leaders and not followers.

Meghan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is Meghan Elliott, I am a high school math teacher who recommends math websites for students to explore and that I use to supplement my lessons. The main site I have used in the past is Math.com. It can be useful for students because it has step-by-step examples, practice quizzes, and a glossary. I have only suggested they take a look, I have never formally introduced them to the site. This article gave me an idea. I could take my class into the computer lab and we could have a two day lesson or so on how to navigate that site and others. They are not going to use a site I suggest for studying unless they know how to use it. If we actually took a look at it as a class they will see how helpful it could be and easy it is to use. Does anyone have any math sites they have use before that they are willing to share with me?

Suzanne Segady's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Helping students to ascertain strong, reliable sources for research is a daunting task in this age of over-communication. Good research was once a fairly simple, if time-consuming task -- nearly everything we could find was peer-reviewed (excuse me while I reminisce fondly about card catalogs and massive tomes in quiet libraries -- all nearly impossible to find, now). The sheer volume of information available makes the task of winnowing sources so daunting that, even when well trained and taught, students are reluctant to take the time to do so. We are a culture of instant gratification. If it pops up first when we Google, then it must be fine!

I do not think, unlike Sean's suggestion, that teachers do not know how to distinguish the wheat from the chaff. Most do, and most attempt to teach it well. The digital world varies less from the past than we might think, and 21st century literacy (the current buzzword) is less unique than we may think. Surfing the web for information differs little from standing in front of a library shelf reading titles. The presentation and ease of access is what has changed. The critical thinking skills necessary for research are the same as always and this is what must be the focus.

The image of teachers as "curators" is an interesting one, however. Sometimes it is easier to simply limit what sources students may use. Trying to work individually with over 100 students -- well, is exhausting! However, when I do impose limitations, I explain why. Academic research requires peer-reviewed material. I try to help them use the sources I know are verifiable. Another frustration for my students has been access to reliable materials. Most of what they find on Google Scholar, for instance, is password restricted. While I understand the libraries' desire to control access via subscription, but it makes web-based research projects frustrating for both students and teachers.

Suzanne Segady
11th & 12th grade teacher
Colorado Springs

stacey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I loved the comparison of a teacher's quest for ideas through the internet as being similar to that of a miner. It is so true. I have found wonderful resources on the internet, but it certainly can be a time-consuming and tiring task.
I teach second grade and some of my favorite resources have been found by simply searching for second grade teacher web sites in google. This brings up specific sites directly related to what I teach.

susan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm a general music teacher in an elementary school in NY and I find that there are quite a number of quality websites to chose from. Pick and choose the ones that really pertain to your teaching area otherwise you could spend all day "mining" for other ideas. When you find an idea or plan use it right away or plan to implement in the not too distant future. If you don't use it, you'll lose it. Also teacher chatboards are a great way to obtain information on all sorts of ideas or issues in a specific subject area. One that I use often is teachers.net for practical questions, ideas and lesson plans thought up by the teachers in the music room. Artsedge.com and Kennedy-center.org are a couple of great sites with lesson plans, rubrics, articles, etc. I'll add some new sites to my list with your postings. Thanks.

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