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TeachNet Grant: Curating an Online Museum: Digital Technology, Writing Skills, and Collaboration
Catherine Schwenkler

Global Learning Collaborative
145 W 84th St
New York NY 10024

Grade/Subject: 9th grade Spanish Language Arts
About the Grant:

In this "mobile learning" unit, students learned about the value given to artifacts, the process of curating an exhibit, and the role that museums and curators play in our society.  Students used cell phones and computers to explore a museum, understand the process of curation, and discover the importance of artifacts in their own lives.  Finally, students worked together to curate digital exhibits, using their voices and perspectives to write about themes that are important to them. 

I implemented this unit with two 9th grade Spanish Language Arts classes, as part of our curriculum for the many heritage and native Spanish speakers who attend our school.  We are exploring various culturally relevant topics and texts and developing students' reading and writing skills in Spanish.  For the purposes of this unit, a visit to El Museo del Barrio and the artifacts that students chose from their own lives were our "texts" and jumping-off points for conversation, writing, and technological production.

Students began at Spanish Harlem's El Museo del Barrio where they viewed the museum’s permanent collection, Voices and Visions, an exhibit of artwork by various Latino and Latina artists.  Using mobile phones provided by The Pearson Foundation, students texted comments about the collection and recorded an interview with museum educators.  We discussed the decisions that curators make in locating, interpreting, and using artifacts as part of an exhibit.

Next, students used the mobile phones to document significant artifacts from their lives.  Students practiced writing using their own voice and beginning with a "hook" to capture the reader's attention.  By posting their photographs and descriptive comments in a collective digital gallery on Flickr.com, they shared the meaning they had assigned to particular artifacts.  Finally, students worked in collaborative groups to curate digital exhibits around themes of their choice, extending the theme of El Museo del Barrio by including the voices and visions of Latino youth in our class' own online museum.

Materials needed were minimal besides sample texts about artifacts (teacher-created and excertps from Taking Things Seriously by Jen Collins, Chika Auma, Julian Hoeber, and Amy Kubes).  We created Google Docs and smartboard displays with instructions for the technological workshops and progress charts for each student.  As noted below, digital cameras could be used instead of cellular phones.  For some work a one-to-one student-computer ratio was necessary, and for the group work only one computer was needed per group of 3-4 students. 

How This Grant was Adapted:

This unit was engaging for students because it involved the use of mobile technology (Nokia mobile devices) as well as computers.  Students enjoyed the opportunity to use phones to take pictures and send pictures and text messages to our blog.  However, it would be easily possible to implement this unit using digital cameras instead of cellular phones.  The important part was that students could capture images of artifacts that were important to them in their own lives (objects at home, in many cases).  The lowest-tech version of this part of the project would be to have students bring the objects into the classroom, where one or two digital cameras could suffice to take photographs of all of them.

This unit taught students various technological skills, like pushing text and photos to a blog, uploading pictures and attaching text on a photo storage site like Flickr, moving text and pictures (html) to another site, and organizing a blog.  One important aspect of the unit that developed over time was a visual way for students to understand what to do when, and when they had accomplished so far.  In the blog work, especially, it was valuable for students to have a large chart displayed on the wall with all of the names and each sequential step laid out of what to do next online.  Students would progress along the different steps (uploading their photos, writing about each one, etc.) and check off their progress as they went.  We had a version of this progress chart online as well.  This helped students stay focused and directed their independent work during "writing/technology workshops."

Since some students were more technologically savvy and finished tasks in a more efficient manner than their classmates, we would often use them as "tech experts" in the classroom and ask them to help their classmates learn how to navigate a new website or accomplish a certain task.  This helped all students stay on-task and we found that the students both enjoyed helping their peers and being helped by their peers instead of always receiving instruction from the teacher.  Extension activities or strategies like this one are certainly necessary, since some students will always accomplish writing or technological tasks more quickly.

Students' writing improved through the focus on targeted writing skills, like using personal voice and writing with a hook.  During all of the technological work that we did, it was important to not overlook a pen-and-paper approach to drafting their ideas and conferencing one-on-one with a teacher before putting any text online as a final version.  Students talked in groups about their ideas around their central theme for their exhibit, then wrote them down to discuss with a teacher, and finally put their final version online.  In all cases a mini-lesson on the writing skill, just as we did mini-lessons on the technological skills for the day, proved invaluable to focus students' attention and show them examples of what we were looking for.

Finally, it was important to have an open-ended approach to the artifact-finding and curation processes.  Students really enjoyed the opportunity to document and write about objects from their own lives, that no one else would find important.  We began the unit with a discussion about how "one person's trash is another person's treasure."  With this framework, students were encouraged to choose whatever objects from their own lives really represented them.  This open-ended attitude toward what they documented as well as what they wanted to write about these objects helped students' creativity come through.  We modelled this for students by bringing in artifacts from our own lives on the first day of the unit and telling stories about them.

Project URL

The following website is the final presentation of the students' work: http://glcmuseum.wordpress.com/

This website showcases the project, the process, and the students' work.  Visit the various "exposiciones" to see how students curated their own exhibits and how they presented their work.  In the "Class Gallery" you can see all of the photos of artifacts from students' lives with their short narrative descriptions.  


Students will be able to articulate the importance of objects in their own lives in writing.

Students will be able to write using a hook to capture the reader's attention.

Students will be able to navigate between and use different websites for creative production.

Students will be able to write about a theme using personal, first-person voice.

Students will be able to explain the process of curation, the role of museums and the value of artifacts.

Students will be able to work collaboratively and respectfully in groups to curate an exhibit of artifacts.

Websites Used


This is a free photo storage site that is accessible to all, once you sign up for a free account.  You can use the same account as a class.  Flickr has user-friendly features to upload pictures from your computer and display online either so that everyone can see them or so that only certain users can see them.  Once pictures are posted you can add more, change the title or add a description to the pictures.  You can also allow for comments on the pictures.


This is a free blogging site that is accessible to all, once you sign up for a free account.  You can use the same account as a class.  On wordpress you can create a blog that includes photos and text and allows for viewers to make comments.  The "dashboard" feature allows you to tailor your blog to make it look however you want.  There are easier features (like blog title, tagline, posts, and appearance) as well as more advanced options (widgets, etc.)

Standards Addressed:

9th grade English Language Arts NYS State Standards:

  • Students will read for literary response and expression: Read, view, and interpret texts and performances in every medium from a wide variety of authors, subjects, and genres (e.g., short stories, novels, plays, film and video productions, poems, and essays)
  • Students will write for literary response and expression: Create a personal voice
  • Students will write for literary response and expression: Maintain consistent point of view, including first-person
  • Students will write for literary response and expression: use resources such as personal voice, knowledge from other content areas, and independent reading to create literary, interpretive, and responsive texts

Catherine Schwenkler is a Spanish teacher in New York City, working at a new international studies high school in the Upper West Side. She has previously taught in Virginia and has her Master's in Education from the College of William and Mary. Catherine has extensive experience living and traveling abroad, and has integrated technology into various project-based units in her different classes. She has presented her curriculum development work focusing on extended performance-based units in a regional conference with her colleagues.


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