Making Connections with Virtual Museums

Museums are fascinating places. The curation and design of a museum display has the potential to captivate viewers and engage them in looking closely, thinking critically, expanding perspectives, and building empathy. For me, an epiphany moment occurred at the Frist Art Museum in the hands-on Martin ArtQuest room. One activity contained a blank map of Gallery Rooms, a collection of art reproductions on magnets, and the invitation to “Be a Curator!” This became an intriguing exploration of ways to organize the artwork in the empty gallery rooms. Should one curate by time period, art movements, thematically, or even as a comparison/contrast of artists? How would Van Gogh’s expressionistic field of iris dialogue with the abstracted desert landscapes by Georgia O’Keefe or the thrilling iceberg and volcano landscapes romanticized by Frederic Edwin Church? A 2019 visit to the National Museum of the American Indian provoked a different type of response as I viewed an expansive wall of merchandise, posters, commercials, and movies that throughout history had “branded” indigenous peoples to sell an American product and a perspective about these people. Part of the power of this display was the opportunity for viewers to linger with the images that they felt compelling and invite them to make their own meaning.

Curation is an art in itself, calling upon skills of discerning relevancy and critical thinking, and AASL recognizes this in the Curate Standard, part of which states that “Learners add value to a collection of resources by organizing and annotating them.” This school year provided an opportunity to immerse students in curation. As part of a Civil War investigation, 7th graders are being challenged to use their research notes to create a digital presentation (a virtual museum) of primary source images, historic documents, and analysis paragraphs. Though this type of multimodal exploration could be done in GoogleSlides by linking content to slides within the slide deck, these 7th graders will use ThingLink. With Thinglink, interactive tag markers can be placed on locations in an image to allow viewers to link to additional text boxes, images, or media (audio, video). Here is one example of a ThingLink by the Smithsonian Institution:
Fort Sumter Telegram. The organization of this ThingLink invites close analysis of a single primary source document.

Virtual Museums

For our students, the goal is to simulate the experience of a museum so that viewers can explore the students’ own thinking about the Civil War. Making Thinking Visible, a book describing Harvard Project Zero’s research, offered several helpful routines to deepen students’ thinking. One thinking routine, Generate–Sort–Connect–Elaborate, delineated the type of thinking students would use in this curation of a virtual museum.

In the note-taking phase of student research, students generated several ideas as they researched questions about the Civil War.

Students used the NoodleTools note card feature and titled note cards with brief descriptions. These note cards were used in the sorting process. Students sorted main ideas and supporting ideas; or gathered notes in groups for a comparison/contrast or cause and effect organization. This diagram shows an example of sorting into main and supporting ideas for a discussion of Civil War Technology:

The next step is to connect ideas and explain connections. Here is an example of how the sorted ideas would be connected in Thinglink. Note that links are not active on the following screenshots.

Example of ThingLink Link 7 that expands to a discussion of strategy. (See next screenshot.)
Strategy: Civil War Band Music
Discussion of how military band music was used by General Grant as a strategy to conceal the sounds of troop movements. Note that an additional link on the slide accesses an audio clip of the band music (links not active on screenshot, but you can click this link to hear the music).

A final text box (indicated by Star tag) links to a paragraph that elaborates on connected ideas and shares insights (see following examples). The more information tag on the ThingLink (indicated by an i tag) links to a bibliography of sources.

Example of elaborating on connections with own insights.

This is just the beginning phase as our students curate their research. It will be exciting to watch their thinking evolve as they generate, sort, connect, and elaborate their ideas in ThingLink and share with an audience their insights about the Civil War.