Sunday, December 4, 2011

Did Wonderstruck make anyone else curious?

I just finished reading Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck.  Once again, I find his ability to tell a story in words and images remarkable.  Yet I also discovered that he and I may be kindred spirits.  Museums, even going all the way back to "curiosity cabinets," fascinate me.  Like the children in this book feel, I think I could run away to a museum to live happily ever after.  Anyway, finishing the book made me realize that many people are not familiar with the world's first museums, which were curated by average people sharing their collections in a box or in a whole room in their homes.  These earliest museums were called "cabinets of curiosities" or "cabinets of wonder."  Hmmm, I know most children collect something, maybe they can be encouraged to be curators and share their interests, their knowledge, with others?

I found several resources online that could make interesting lesson plans, or just interesting projects to break the boredom of Winter Break.  First, I found a lesson plan developed at Union City High School (PA):  Students learn what a curiosity cabinet is and then, using PhotoShop software, create virtual cabinets of their own.  Very high tech!  The students learned to use images with permission (hooray for an information literacy/copyright lesson imbedded in a fun project).  Then the students "collected" curios using images on eBay and added them to their cabinets.  Sounds like fun!

Then I discovered that the J. Paul Getty Museum has an online exhibit with lesson plan called "A Curious Cabinet."  From this page students can launch an exploration of an actual cabinet from the Getty collection.  The lesson is recommended for students in grades 6-12.  A teacher guide and a student guide, both in PDF format, are downloadable from the same Web page.  I can imagine spending hours exploring the drawers and shelves of this piece!

My last stop was to the page.  From the "What's an exhibit?" link, the history of cabinets of wonder is explained and then put in context of this websites determination to continue the tradition through Web exhibits.  The site includes a handful of exhibits currently accessible (the plan is to continue adding collections) as well as explanations on developing your own collection.  Their goal is to be a primary resource "to take multidisciplinary approach that provides something for everyone."  I enjoyed browsing their "curiosity cabinets" and plan to refer to them for future projects.

After learning about early museums and collection, I think we can all encourage our kids to be curators of their own collections.  Just pass 'em a cigar box or the empty carton the new TV came in and let 'em figure out how they want to display their own unique collections.

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