Kids Create a Museum Exhibit from Pieces of Their Community.
Juliette LaMontagne had an idea for a new curriculum for students at the Global Learning Cooperative School in New York City. It would be based on the principles of museum curating: finding, selecting, displaying, and interpreting artifacts as part of a museum exhibition. La Montagne is an educational consultant for the school part of the New York City Department of Education Innovation Zone, and she believed the process of curating would call into play many essential skills, including critical thinking, creativity, and project management, along with important elements of the core curriculum such as writing and social history.
Working with staff of the New Learning Institute’s New York Innovation Center, LaMontagne took her idea one step further. Together they developed a project-based approach to integrating advanced technology into the museum project. Her students would create an online museum exhibit, using digital media and mobile communication devices to capture images, record their notes, post their work online, and map the artifacts.
El Museo del Barrio
Two ninth grade Spanish classes taught by Catherine Swankler took part in the project. One class consisted of mainly native Spanish speakers, the other English speakers who were learning Spanish. To introduce the students the concept of curating, the teachers arranged for a field trip to El Museo del Barrio part of Manhattan’s "Museum Mile" on Fifth Avenue. El Museo is one of New York’s leading Latino cultural institutions, dedicated to presenting and preserving the art and culture of Puerto Ricans and all Latin Americans in the United States.
At the museum, the students met with curators who explained how museum exhibits are put together; how artifacts are selected, arranged and presented to the public. The museum staff told the students that to create a good museum exhibit it was essential to have a point of view. Their job as young curators was to collect artifacts that held some importance or interest for them and then explain that interest to a broader audience.
A Museum on a Blog
The platform for the creation of the students’ exhibits was a blog built by the New Learning Institute staff with input from the two faculty members. The young people were divided into teams for the project. Each class was given a page on the blog and each team a sub page to use as the site for their online museum exhibit. The blog pages were also used as notebooks where the students could record their thoughts and plans for their projects.
While at the El Museo Del Barrio, the students used smart phones to post their responses on their blog pages. They were then given their assignment — to find five objects in their communities that would make up their exhibit. Working first as individuals, they were to use smart phones to photograph the artifacts and post them on their class blog pages along with written commentary. This would form a "catalog" from which the project teams could pick the artifacts for their exhibits.
Each team was then asked to review the catalog, choose a theme for their exhibit and select five images they felt fit their theme. In order to present their exhibit, they had to be able to express their theme clearly in a written text. As the students began to assemble their artifacts, picking from those in the class catalog, they were able to follow the progress of other teams. The blog format allowed them to view and respond to other projects and to receive feedback on their own. Even after the virtual exhibits were finished, the project continued as students and teachers were able to use the blog to respond to the projects.
The Global Learning Cooperative museum project used advanced communications technology as a platform to integrate digital media and several curriculum areas into one learning experience. Using only smart phones, computers and blogging software, the teachers and the NLI staff were able to create a unique opportunity for students to learn and express themselves in a new, exciting format.