Tonight I had a flashback to my social studies teaching days, to the nights when I sat up in bed searching for the perfect object to hook my students for the next day’s lesson. Before I got the hang of it, it took me a lot of hunting online to find an object that would both align with my lesson objectives and engage my students.
Each day my students walked in the room to see an object projected on the SmartBoard. Students spent a few moments completing a version of the Library of Congress primary source analysis tool. We spent a minute or two discussing observations, inferences, and questions before I revealed the object’s museum label. Over the course of a year we saw hundreds of objects. Objects that springboarded us into other discussions and investigations.
So, you may have noticed I just said hundreds of objects. About 200 to be exact. In the first few weeks of doing this with my students I agonized over every choice, I went down rabbit holes on museum websites, and I struggled to diversify the kinds of objects I presented. Over time I learned tricks to save me time and build connections for my students so here are a few…
- Most museums are crawling into the 21st century finally. I remember when I couldn’t even take my cell phone out at the Met, now almost all their collections are online. Since the Met is an encyclopedic museum you can find almost anything you need for any topic and their collections search engine is easy to use. I have a few other favorite sites: British Museum Collection Online, Smithsonian Collections Search Center, Indianapolis Museum of Art. Most of these sites have built themed collections for browsing. Be sure to set your search settings to include only objects with images.
- One of my favorite jumping off points was the book The History of the World in 100 Objects. On the book’s website the accompanying podcasts are great for context. Definitely a source you want to preview when sharing with students depending on the age of students.
- Check out ArtStories if you are looking for deeper engagement with objects. Interactive features are added to the object images. The focus is on stories so the interactive features relate to building on the story of the artist, object context, or the medium.
- MOMA’s Object: Photo site has a great mapping feature that allows visitors to investigate connections between artists and where they lived and worked. Visitors can also compare photographs. Essays are on the site as well and they are full of background information.
- Curate your own sets for use later and curate similar topics at the same time. It will be much easier to find related objects/images all at one sitting, rather than doing it in fits and starts. Learned my lesson on this. I usually planned out a week or two at a time. Planning for this day helped me pay attention to the progression of objects I was sharing in a given unit. I could easily ask myself if my objects represented the major points of my unit and the understandings I wanted to guide students towards.
- Allow students to curate sets as an assessment or create an online museum.
- Share sources with your students. They will go to the sites and do some browsing on their own and that is an amazing thing. I posted the links on our Learning Management System and links to corresponding interactives and features we didn’t have time to get to in class.
- You can also offer incentives for students who find interesting objects related to unit themes. Tell students to find objects that answer your essential question or hint at your enduring understandings. Let them do a bit of the digging and they will uncover things you may not ever find.
- Tie in literacy by connecting objects with informational texts and current news. My students loved anything related to repatriation when I taught World History.
There are few things more engaging than objects, works of art, and photographs. Happy hunting!