Contributed by Hadley Ferguson
Imagine yourself in an enormous warehouse, filled with boxes of every size and color, stacked to the ceiling, row after row of them. That warehouse is like your digital collection, filled with all that you have found interesting on the Web. Now, turn out the lights, feel the darkness around you, and then find that one special red box that Aunt Martha sent you two years ago. For many of us, this is what happens when we need to access a lesson plan or an image that we remember from weeks or months ago. It exists; we know it does! Finding it again is the challenge.
We can start with a Google search and hope that whatever it was that we Liked, Pinned, Tweeted, Bookmarked, or maybe just read will show up, but that can be a laborious process, one that depends on our memory to recall enough to allow Google to work its magic. As the world of knowledge exponentially grows, we need a system to support our recall and understanding, and our students need it too. This is the work of curation: to identify what is significant in the vast world of knowledge and then to store that information in ways that it can be easily found and used to create new understanding. You need to have a strategy to retain and organize knowledge.
Curation starts with identifying what is significant to you! They are going to be your collections, and should reflect your interests and needs. Start by asking yourself the following questions:
• What is important to me, both personally and professionally? This list can be as short or as long as you want.
o Classroom management
o Curriculum ideas
o Whatever you look for when you are browsing the internet goes here
• How will I use the information that I find? Take time to think about why it is important to hold onto what you are finding.
o Lesson planning
o Collaborating with colleagues
This step is like turning on the light in your digital warehouse. The aisles and shelves that surround you can be labeled with the categories that you want.
Now it is time to organize it all to meet your specific needs. This is a very individualized step. Your organizational plan will not necessarily match anyone else’s. It also will change over time. As you use your resources, you may find that the plan you first created needs to be tweaked to better serve you. It might start with very general categories: Personal and Professional. An easy way to imagine it is to think about recipes. Do you want to organize them by the ingredients or by the occasions when they are used, or both? Does the Thanksgiving pie go in one place or in many? It is all based on how you imagine you will use it in the future. The wonderful part about digital collections is that that recipe can easily live in multiple places. It is not limited to a single slot on the shelf.
Choose the digital tool that works for you. To start with, it can be as simple as a document with the topics and sub-topics labeled where you paste URLs. Digital tools like www.diigo.com and www.evernote.com allow you to have a private or public collection of your curated work, so that when you are comfortable with sharing it, you can collaborate with others to expand your resources and learning.
It is also critical that we teach these skills to our students, as they are living in this world filled with information. We need to help them to identify what is significant to them and to help them learn to organize it to build their lifelong, individual libraries. Start by teaching them to make folders on their desktops, if in a 1:1 school, or to make folders in Word or Google Docs. Start a class wiki to share links and other resources.
Our warehouses are vast! Take control and empower yourself and your students!
Hadley Ferguson is a middle school teacher at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, an independent school in Philadelphia. She teaches History and Humanities as well as Entrepreneurship. Hadley is passionate about developing new curriculum to meet the needs of her students, working with other teachers, both in her building and through her personal learning network, to develop the best strategies to enhance the learning in her classroom. Hadley has a B.A. and an MEd from Smith College.