Bring the Masters Right into your Classroom with Google Arts & Culture

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Responding to art is an important process in an arts classroom and can be a valuable strategy when integrating art into other content areas.  But not all classrooms have collections of art prints like many art classrooms have.  

Some pieces of artwork have had a profound impact on me. Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” is one such image that, for me, epitomized the despair of people during the Great Depression.

This image resides in many art museums, one of which is the Minneapolis Institute of Art. So, as a resident of Minneapolis, I can see this image in person (if its currently being displayed). But there are lots of works of art that aren’t as accessible, that are housed in museums in Chicago or New York or even further away in England, Russia or beyond.  Now it’s possible to take your class on a virtual field trip to many of these museums thanks to the Google’s Arts and Culture, part of Google’s Cultural Institute.

Short history

Google started digitizing art collections in 2011 as part of an initiative known as the Google Art Project.  Within the first year it had assembled more than 30,000 high resolution images online from 17 museums from around the world including collections from the Art Institute in Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Tate Museum in England, and even the Hermitage in St. Petersburg Russia. The following year Google opened a tandem project entitled the Cultural Institute whose mission was to apply new technologies to capture not just works of art, but other cultural artifacts, including photos, videos, and documents.

In December of 2015, Google combined the Cultural Institute collection with the Art Project and named it Google Arts and Culture, with an new interactive application for mobile devices.   

Here is a Youtube video that provides a nice overview of Google’s Arts and Culture.

Classroom application

Think about projecting a famous painting in your classroom, zooming in on sections to highlight details, and doing your very own visual thinking strategy with your class–as if you were standing in front of the piece of artwork in the museum.  Try using the Visual Thinking Strategies with your students as you are viewing the painting: “What’s going on in this picture? What do you see that makes you say that?  What more can we find?”

Equally cool, for some of the images in Google Arts and Culture, you can click on a street view icon and view the actual museum room to see how the art is displayed, and perhaps even more importantly, get a sense of its scale.  

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Check out this iconic Claude Monet painting, “The Water Lilies.”  How can you convey the size and scope of this piece of artwork? Take a look at the street view in the Musee de l’Orangerie in Paris!

When you log into Google Arts and Culture with your Google login, you will be able to mark images as favorites and organize them into collections. In this way, you can share the url for you collection with your students so they can bring them up on their own devices and zoom in to view details up close in high resolution.

You won’t find every piece of artwork catalogued in Arts and Culture. In fact, if you are looking for a specific item, you will be better served by googling the title directly and searching more broadly.  What is unique to the Google project is that it provides high resolution images and draws upons cultural perspectives  from museums around the world.

Google Arts and Culture has so many features that I’m going to have to save exploring more of them for future blog posts right here in Making Connections.

Digital Storytelling via the iPad Part 1: What’s My Story?

digitalesI recently attended a one-day workshop at the TIES Technology Conference in Minnesota on Digital Storytelling and the iPad.  The workshop was lead by two talented trainers from the TIES technology integration team, Caroline Little and Kari Huinker.  They based their workshop on the work of Bernajean Porter, the guru of digital storytelling who provides inspiring insights and direction in her book, Digitales, and her website of extensive resources and related articles.

In the next several blog posts, I want to share my current thinking about exploring alternatives to traditional approaches to storytelling, about iPads and the creative process, and about the specific apps I recommend to implement a digital storytelling unit in your classroom with iPads.  There are lots of wonderful iPad apps to use with primary students but my focus will be on those strategies and tools that I think work best with grades 4-12.

We often tend to think only about personal stories when talking about student storytelling.  In fact, in units that have been created through the PerpichCenter’s arts integration project, students have been very successful telling personal stories and using digital tools to integrate artwork and music.  Here are some examples from our Rothsay team in Minnesota.

I’m interested in trying my hand at a different type of storytelling and exploring how it might be used in the classroom.  Bernajean Porter, in her article “Beyond Words, The Craftsmanship of Digital Products”, identifies several types of student stories that go beyond personal narratives.  Here are a three communication types that Bernajean identifies that I think would be particularly applicable for middle and high school science or social studies classrooms…

Describe/Conclude: A very thorough, detailed description of a single topic culminating in an evidence -based conclusion that is well argued

Analyze/Conclude: Not only is the problem or topic described, but multiple choices or factors are analyzed for new meaning and thinking about the effects, leading to recommended conclusion

Analyze/Persuade: Similar to analyze/conclude, with the structure of the information designed to sway an audience to share the authr’s position along with an emotional or intellectual appeal for a “call to action”

from, “Beyond Words, The Craftsmanship of Digital Products” May, 2006, Learning and Leading with Technology


For this blog, I’m going to develop a storytelling example that will analyze the impact of humans on the environment and attempt to persuade my audience to take personal action to help mitigate the long term environmental effects of this human impact.

I’ll exclusively use an iPad to plan, create, and publish my story–and along the way I’ll create blog posts to describe my processes and tools.  I hope you’ll come along for the ride!

Arts Integration and/or Technology Integration?

I made a career change one year ago, and shortly thereafter stopped posting to this blog.  For the past year I’ve been directing my energies toward supporting arts integration efforts in schools throughout Minnesota through a project at the Perpich Center for Arts Education, a Minnesota state agency.  Granted, I’m still working with technology, primarily focusing on tech strategies for professional development.  I’m using tools and techniques that I honed while working in Minneapolis Public Schools, things like Moodle for professional development  and Google docs for collaboration.  However, I find my classroom-teacher-self being drawn more and more into the nitty-gritty arts integration work we are doing, work that involves aligning benchmarks and learning goals with rich assessments in cross disciplinary units of study.   And interestingly, I’m seeing more and more similarities between technology integration and arts integration.

These similarities became more clear the other day as my Perpich team was looking at the  Arizona Technology Integration Matrix (originally developed by Florida Center for Technology Integration).  It was interesting that the characteristics being considered for good technology integration–active, collaborative, constructive, authentic, and goal directed–aligned  with several characteristics on the Perpich Arts Integration Rubric!  Both rubrics call for the active alignment of student learning goals and objectives, constructive-student centered work, and authentic processes in the learning environment.

Of course, you may be saying–”Duh! Are you actually surprised?”  Isn’t it obvious that both arts integration and technology integration have a goal of enriching, and energizing, learning through student engagement and differentiated learning. In fact, it’s not difficult to envision the TPACK model for technology integration being transformed into an arts  APACK model!  (As I think about it, there is rich fodder for further posts on this idea!)

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But there are differences, particularly considering how our Perpich team approaches arts integration.  Arts integration for us is more that just adding arts processes and products to increase learning in another content field.  For us, the arts standards need to be of equal importance in the learning tasks and should be woven into the actual work of students.  So, students should see and be able to verbalize their arts learning along side the content area objectives.  The arts are very much visible and present in the learning environment.

By contrast, when technology is integrated well it should be virtually transparent to the student.  Technology is merely a part of the student learning toolkit that they select from when constructing their personal learning journey.

So, what does this all mean in terms of my own personal educational journey and how I reflect on technology ideas in this blog?  Over the past year I have been gravitating toward how technology may be woven into arts integration units.  For instance, storytelling that brings together music, art and language can be enriched, and products published, through the use of different technology tools.  I plan to focus upcoming postings on digital storytelling using the iPad. Our Triton High School (Dodge Center, MN) team has been working on just such a project this month.  Here is a final project from one of the students.

Perhaps you have some ideas for topics I could develop around technology enriched arts integration projects? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section!

Interactive Whiteboard Debate

Fancy Projection Screens or Transformative Tools for 21st Century teaching?

OK, I really come down somewhere in the middle on this question.  Despite all the hype, an IWB is really only as good as the teacher using it.  In a novice’s hands, an IWB often is just a glorified whiteboard, with electronic ink replacing stinky dry eraser ink.  If a teacher is still trying to figure out classroom management and how to connect the curriculum to the unique profiles of her particular students, the fine elements of engaging reveals and interactive activities will likely be beyond her reach (although I should note that the IWB can help any teacher, new or veteran, in managing the basic routines of the classroom).  However, in the hands of an accomplished teacher, one who has invested some time to learn the board’s potential, an IWB can amplify learning, and in some instances, actually be transformative.

One of the ways IWB’s are transforming teaching and learning is the way in which it can become the digital hub of the classroom.  It is now possible to integrate a wide variety digital teaching resources into one teaching tool—video, still images, graphic organizers, websites, graphics—all linked into one application and viewable in a nonlinear fashion.  The nonlinear idea is important.  Powerpoints have the ability to link together digital resources, but Powerpoints are most often used in a very linear way, which removes spontaneity and the ability to follow student interest and direction.  In addition, with IWB software all the digital resources can now be housed within one learning object (think of it as a file)—in the case of Promethean, a flipchart, or with Smartboard, a notebook file.   Now all the resources for a lesson can easily be shared amongst teachers.  This is huge.  The time teachers have to create interactive, media rich lessons is very limited.  IWB’s enable teachers to collaborate on lessons within their school, across the district, and, with the IWB’s community sharing sites, across the world!

The digital hub idea is about teaching.  IWB’s also positively impact the dynamics of student learning.  Students today are distracted learners.  Their world is full of stimuli, and yet the classroom is often very one-dimensional.  Information is conveyed orally, and if the teacher is good, reinforced with visual cues, most often written on the black or whiteboard.  Students often tune out, or never turn on, this type of learning.  With the IWB, teachers can now capture students’ attention through using techniques like reveals, hidden objects, over and underlays, video frame capture, text deconstruction, object manipulation—the list is as long as a teacher’s creativity.  One aspect of IWB research that seems most conclusive is that student engagement does increase when IWB’s are being used effectively.  Students are more attentive and engaged learners, and teachers are spending less time on behavior and management issues.

The issue of whether an IWB is just a glorified projection screen or really a transformative tool boils down to more than a question of whether a teacher is a veteran or novice.  I have seen underutilized IWB’s in very accomplished teacher’s classrooms.  To realize the potential of teaching with an IWB a teacher needs to invest time in learning the IWB software—and the teacher needs to think differently about how he is going to deliver information to his students.  IWB’s can just be a replacement for the existing blackboard if the teacher doesn’t change her pedagogy.  And change is hard!  (This sounds like fodder for another blog post.)  For now, why don’t you share below how your IWB has changed teaching and learning in your classroom?

Flipping the Classroom

No, this is not what your classroom looks like after the painters put that new coat of beige paint on your walls and have moved all your bookshelves to the middle of the room.  Instead, think—21st century learning, using video and online resources to deliver the concepts and content of your subject to your students prior to class as homework the night before.  Yep, employ the multimedia learning modalities that are natural for your students outside of class as part of their homework.  Then the next day imagine your students walking into your classroom already having engaged in the big ideas of your discipline and ready to explore topics in class through discussion, small group activities, labs, debate, simulations, multimedia creation….

Flipping the classroom is being explored by more and more teachers as internet access becomes more ubiquitous in the every day life of their students.  Teachers are recording their “lectures” using easily accessible tools like Jing, Promethean ActivInspire, and Smart Notebook.  Teachers are then posting their content online so students can view (and review repeatedly) topics outside of class.  Check out this chemistry teacher from Colorado who is leading the way with flipping his classroom.

So how do you go about doing this?  It’s actually easier than you think.  You need a way to capture your content and a place to post it to the internet for your students to view. Capturing is becoming easier and easier as free Web2.0 tools are readily available.  Jing is a free website and download that enables you to easily do screen capture and post it to the internet.   In addition, interactive whiteboard (IWB) softwares like Promethean ActivInspire and Smartboard Notbook have capture tools that enable you to do screen and audio capture in .wav and .mov formats that are easy to post online.  Here is a learning packet in Sophia.org that I created about capturing video using IWB software.

But where can you post your flipped classroom videos?  Many teachers are using their own websites or Moodle courses but others are turning to new social learning sites like Sophia.org.  Sophia allows teachers to create learning packets (like mine about capturing video using an interactive whiteboard) with video, powerpoints, pdf’s, and images.  Sophia’s online website is a perfect place to post “flipped” content for students to view prior to class.

Those teachers who are flipping their classrooms have shared some things to think about as you move into this pedagogical approach…

  1. Use it judiciously—its not appropriate for all lessons or all the time
  2. The flipped classroom is not the savior of education today
  3. Flipping is only as good as the teacher who uses it
  4. Use it in bite-size chunks—short videos or presentations are better than long lectures
  5. Have a strategy in place for students who come to class not having viewed the content at home
  6. Video content needs to be engaging—use humor and personalize the learning

There are probably lots more ideas that can be added to this list.  What would you suggest to teachers venturing into flipping their classrooms?

Suggested resources:

How the Flipped Classroom is Radically Transforming Learning

Jonathan Bergman and Aaron Sams, Science teachers from Colorado on the cutting edge of flipped classrooms blog about their experience on The Daily Riff.  Bergman and Sams have a book on flipping the classroom being published by ISTE this fall, 2011.

The Flip: Why I Love It, How I Use It

Shelley Wright, a science teachers, blogs about how she flips her science classroom in KQED’s MindShift blog

3 keys to a flipped classroom

David Truss cautions in the Connected Principals blog about what to watch out for when first flipping your classroom.

The Flipped Classroom Model: A Full Picture

Jackie Gerstein, EdD, shares a comprehensive overview of the changes that need to take place back in the classroom in a flipped classroom environment.

Mobile Learning at ISTE 2011 in Philly

Check out this QR (Quick Read) Code.

I scanned it with my iPhone standing next to Benjamin Franklin’s grave in Philadelphia last week. I was on a field trip with the ISTE SIGML (special interest group for mobile learning).  We were using QR codes to discover interesting facts about Ben Franklin as we did a walking tour around the historical neighborhoods surrounding Independence Hall.

If you don’t have a QR reader for your smartphone, I suggest going to http://www.i-nigma.com and download one (here’s the url that this QR code links to, but its not as much fun clicking on it as using your phone and the QR reader–http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9Aqa_zoWhA&feature=related)

Kind of sounds like old Ben, don’t you think?

Perhaps you’ve seen QR codes in magazines or stores (Best Buy is using them to display specs on their products), but have you thought about how we might use them in education?  Browse on QR codes in education and you’ll gather a plethora of ideas for uses inside and outside the classroom.  Having done my masters work in environmental education, I’m particularly enchanted with the idea of QR codes in the field to guide students’ exploration of the world around them.

Creating QR codes is pretty darn easy.  Using the website Delivr (http://delivr.com/) you can easily add a URL to a resource on the internet  and generate a QR code that can be downloaded and printed or embedded in a website.   The resource you link to can be anything that can be stored on the internet—video or audio file, webpage, image—just remember that if you plan on using smartphones its best to link to content that displays well on a mobile phone.  Look for sites that have options for mobile phone compatibility.

That’s what our tour guides did for the SIGML event in Philadelphia.  Mark van’t Hooft and Tom McNeal, professors at Kent State’s Research Center for Educational Technology have been promoting the use QR codes in education for years, and their enthusiasm rubs off on you!  Tom talks enthusiastically about how they are bringing teachers and students to their AT&T model classroom to discover how mobile learning can change teaching and learning.  Speaking of students, a group of students from Omaha North High School created two videos of the Philly event.  Here they are.

I was one of the volunteers in orange shirts  on our SIGML field trip.  My responsibility was  to assist participants as they manipulated QR codes and help them find their way around the area with a map that Tom and Mark provided.  However, the only thing that I ended providing my group was access to a smartphone!  You see, I was touring with a bloke from Australia (hew was the guy in the video who is going to use QR codes for a rainforest project) and his phone carrier didn’t connect in Philly!  The other two participants in my group hailed from Manchester, England, originally (although now they reside in Chapel Hill, NC).  It was awfully ironic to be walking around Independence Hall with a couple of Brits!

During a break from the heat, Helen Crompton, one of the Brits, and I exchanged ideas about ways in which QR codes may be used in the field.  Having worked most recently with inner city middle school kids, I speculated that it would be important to set expectations for students to use this technology engage text—after all, we have all experienced the frustration of getting students to read exhibit information in museums.  However, if students are on a scavenger hunt, with a goal in mind they chances are they will pour through text you link to with a QR code in search of a clue.

Our ideas didn’t stop there.  What about using the physical displays already available at historic sites, but use QR codes to link to pages that help students understand the vocabulary and text in the display.  Or why not create a webpage connected to the site that is tailored to the unique learning needs of a group of students?  In Minneapolis it’s easy to create and post audio or video podcasts to a district podcast server.  I started thinking about how a teacher could communicate “virtually” with students spread across an entire historical site by merely creating a few short podcasts and linking to them with QR codes!

Here are the two sites that I’ve mentioned that can get you started.

  1. I recommend using the QR reader app at http://i-nigma.com.  I like this because its ad free and it keeps a record in the app of the QR codes you have scanned, in case you want to go back afterwards and revisit one of the sites.
  2. To create QR codes, sign up for free at http://delivr.com.   You can store all the QR codes you create and it tracks the number of links to the QR code.  On top of that it creates a nice web presence for your work with QR codes.

Finally, just for the fun of it, check out this cute kid talking about how they use QR codes in her classroom!  Got some ideas of your own?  Share them below.

Winnowing the Chaff: Part 2

I once had a teacher say to me after a training on using internet resources to enrich and expand teaching and learning, “You’re a technology integration specialist.  You should assemble a list of all the good website out there!  Classroom teachers don’t have time to find all this good stuff.”  I agreed, but shared how I didn’t have time either!  The task of identifying and sharing internet resources  could be a full-time job in and of its own!

Well, actually there are bloggers who do identify and list great internet resources–and do a much better job than I could ever do.  I’ve already written about two of these blogs in Cultivating the Educational Technologist–FreeTechnology for Teachers and iLearn Technology.

I’ve saved one of the best sources for good internet resources for educators for last–its called TeachersFirst.  TeachersFirst goes one better than the blogs I mentioned above–TeacherFirst sends you a weekly email that contains a manageable list of resources and weblinks.  I know, this sounds like old listserv technology (and it probably is) but I find an email in my inbox gets my attention these days more than an RSS feed does.

Here’s how it works–sign up at Teacher First and you receive an email on Sunday morning (maybe that’s the trick–Sunday morning–are teachers more likely to have the time to browse a list of resources?)  Anyway, a week doesn’t pass that I don’t find at least one web resource that is valuable and useful for the teachers with whom I work.

When you navigate to the TeacherFirst website, you can find tagged archives of everything their editors have identified, so you can search their extensive archives for free online resources about virtually any topic or tool you might be interested in.  The identified online interactives, lessons, downloadable classroom materials, and Web2.0 tools include a succinct description, suggested age and curricular connections, and then some ideas about how it might be used in the classroom.

The TeachersFirst website has lots more–online live and archived pd sessions, weekly brain twisters, a daily “Dates that Matter” feature, a travel adventure with Geo and Merie (that engages students with fun interactive features), great online tutorials on everything from Wikis to Blogs, and the list goes on and on.  I’ll save some of these features for future posts.

For now–go to TeachersFirst.org and create a login, and signup for their weekly email.  I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed.