Use on-line museum collections to boost writing, social studies, and critical thinking skills.

Say you're teaching a social studies unit on Asia. Do you know how easy it is to incorporate exploration of the art and culture of this part of the world using the Internet? If you allow children to select images from on-line art museums and create their own virtual galleries, it's almost as easy — and fun — as playing Nintendo. All kids have to do is pick the images they want and copy them onto the desktop or import them into a word processing program. Presto! Then, the next logical step is to write about the pieces they chose and why they arranged them in a certain way.

Bust of a Japanese
warrior from the Met

To get started, visit New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art's on-line collections. Left to their own devices, kids could easily get lost, clicking aimlessly through the on-line paintings. But with the goal of creating individual galleries, you can keep them on-task by demonstrating how to "collect" paintings, sculptures, and ancient artifacts for their own exhibitions.

With this kind of on-line museum visit, kids not only learn about art and social studies, but they also sharpen critical thinking skills. For example, if a child were to choose "Asian Art" from the Met's collections, he could ask himself: Do I want to focus on one country, such as Japan? Do I want to show just paintings, or include artifacts, like a kimono? Do I want my art to come from one time period or span hundreds of years? These are all critical decisions that draw upon higher-level thinking skills.

The Metropolitan Museum's Web site is one of several museum sites on the cutting edge of the visitor-as-curator concept. The process is easy. After signing in, you're invited to create your own gallery, which can display up to 50 favorite works of art.

But don't stop with the Metropolitan. Children can create their own galleries while visiting any on-line museum. As you've probably already noticed, any image from the Web can be copied by pressing down on your mouse while holding the cursor over it — a menu pops up and one of the choices is "copy." Students can copy images to the desktop or cut and paste them into a simple word processing document.

Writing About Your Choices
How can you incorporate writing into this activity? Imagine that the same child who has captured nine of his favorite pieces of Asian art has also cut and pasted them into his gallery. Why did he choose these particular nine images? What glimpses do they offer into Asian culture, geography, and customs? How can he write about his collection in a way that will reflect what he's learned as well as inspire other children? How a child interprets the images he or she has selected becomes the key to integrating reading, writing, social studies, and language arts.

Pursue social studies further by visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Check out the tour called "A Collector's Vision of Puerto Rico", where children can learn about Puerto Rican history and culture by browsing through images of masks, statues, and other objects.

In a similar vein, visit the Seattle Art Museum's interactive gallery specifically geared to children.

See the Kids' Page to view specific works of art.

For a unit on birds, take your class on a virtual tour of the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Here children can click on photos of exotic birds — a trumpeter swan, Andean condor, scarlet Hawaiian tiwi — read fascinating facts about each, and add them to their virtual gallery about animals.

These sites are just a beginning. Think of each of your student's galleries as a work in progress. Then throughout the school year, be on the lookout for other on-line collections that offer exciting images for your students to gather and write about as part of an ongoing gallery.