Category Archives: Modern Art

Six Sites for Primary Source Materials

It is officially August and most educators are beginning to feel the pressure that is the beginning of school. As we start to look at rosters and enrollment, we start to pull out and revamp old lesson plans and search for new material. As a History Teacher (with a background in archaeology) I understand the relevance and importance of primary sources in the classroom. Primary sources are not solely essays or primary works, but art, photographs, and other avenues of popular culture.

Finding primary source documents on the web can sometimes be a bit of a scavenger hunt. I know that I have spent hours scouring the web for good translations, excerpted texts, or relevant materials. Additionally, incorporating primary source texts can be a challenge with high school children. My youngest kids are ninth graders and often, when I distribute an original text, it is the first time they have seen a document of this type. Additionally, as much as we educators do not like to admit, sometimes it is a challenge for us to come up with ideas and activities to effectively incorporate this material into our classrooms. How do we make this interesting? How do we make this comprehensible? How do we make this relevant? Bringing in an original work and simply tossing it into a classroom environment is a sure-fire method for failure – students will often be confused, bored, and overwhelmed. Teaching with primary sources requires preparation and method.

In this article, I am focusing on six websites that focus on providing primary sources for educators and students. These sites are all excellent resources for educators in the Social Studies with a broad range of topics: American History, World History, World Religions, Language, Literature, Art, and Politics. There are many more amazing resources out there and I encourage you to add yours as well! So, here are my favorite five (presented in no particular order):

1. Milestone Documents  (Subscribe to their Facebook and Twitter feeds (all free) for regular highlights of documents in their catalogue as well as lesson plan ideas.)

  • Cost: $106.20 for an annual subscription
  • Grades: High School and College  (the material is too sophisticated for elementary and middle school).
  • Subject(s): History
  • Geographic Focus: Milestone focuses heavily on American History, but includes a solid library of texts for all of World History (Ancient, Western, African, and Asian).
  • Additional Subject Focus: In addition to organizing the material by date and region, Milestone has sections of Social History including politics (heavily focused on American political history), religion, and women.
  • Material Types: Text-based documents
  • Navigation: The content area is easy to navigate and great for “browsing.” The search feature is excellent for when you know exactly what you need.
  • Teacher Resources: lesson plans, rubrics, and assessment material.
  • Web 2.0 Focus: Many of the lesson plans incorporate Web 2.0 elements – Google Maps, Mind Mapping, etc.

What sets Milestone apart from the free resources listed below is that each document is predicated with a succinct contextual/historical statement. Students and educators are provided with a solid background for the text. Most works are also followed up with a critical analysis essay as well as provocative questions. Milestone is an excellent investment for teachers and students alike.

2. EDSITEment – Sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities,

  • Cost: Free
  • Grades: K-12
  • Subject(s): Art & Culture, Foreign Language, History & Social Studies, as well as Literature & Language Arts.
  • Geographic Focus: World
  • Additional Subjects: Current event topics, social history, politics, religion, popular culture, and more. There are many sub-categories that merit exploration.
  • Material Types: Text-based documents, visual material, maps, etc.
  • Navigation: Easy to browse and explore content areas.
  • Teacher Resources: Educator’s using this resource can readily access a multitude of innovative lesson plans, activities, assessment materials, alignment with Common Core Standards, worksheets, and listings for additional materials and resources.
  • Web 2.0: Many lesson plans incorporate Web 2.0 elements

3. Smithsonian Education – Sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution

  • Cost: Free
  • Grades: K-12
  • Subject(s): Art & Design, Science & Technology, History & Culture, Language Arts
  • Geographic Focus: World (US History most thorough)
  • Additional Subjects: Current event topics, social history, art history
  • Material Types: Text-based documents, visual material, audio recordings, maps, etc.
  • Navigation: Easy to browse and explore content areas.
  • Teacher Resources: Educator’s using this resource can readily access a multitude of innovative lesson plans, activities, assessment materials, alignment with Common Core Standards, worksheets, and listings for additional materials and resources.
  • Web 2.0: Many lesson plans incorporate Web 2.0 elements

4. Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

  • Cost: Free for Educators and Students (private citizens pay per use), must register for access to materials. Gilder Lehrman encourages schools to register as Affiliated Schools (numerous benefits and access to more resources)
  • Grades: K-12, College, Graduate
  • Subjects: American History
  • Geographic Focus: The United States of America
  • Additional Subjects: Social History, Politics, Civil Rights
  • Material Types: Text-based documents, visual material, audio recordings, maps, video, interviews, etc.
  • Navigation: Easy to browse and explore content
  • Teacher Resources: some lesson plans and ideas, collaborative weblog, sponsored Teacher Seminars
  • Web 2.0: very little web 2.0 focus.

5. The Library of Congress

  • Cost: Free
  • Grades: K-12, College, Graduate
  • Subjects: History
  • Geographic Focus: Heavily focused on the Americas (national and regional histories), limited resources for World History
  • Additional Subjects: Folklore, local histories, veteran history, literature
  • Material Types: Text-based documents, visual material, audio recordings, maps, video, interviews, etc.
  • Navigation: Tricky to browse and search, requires adaptability
  • Teacher Resources: Some sections have extensive teachers resources in the form of lesson plans and activities, others are more spartan in their construct. LOC offers grants for professional development.
  • Web 2.0: Some sections readily incorporate web 2.0 activities, others are more limited and traditional.

6. Perseus Digital Library – Sponsored by Tufts University

  • Cost: Free
  • Grades: 9-12, College, Graduate
  • Subject: History, Art History, Archaeology
  • Geographic Focus: Heavily focused on Greco-Roman (founded as a Classical Library it contains all Latin & Greek works), Arabic, Germanic, 19th century America, Renaissance Europe, Egyptian Papyri
  • Additional Subjects: Humanism, Literature
  • Material Types: Text-based documents, visual material; the Art & Archaeology Artifact Browser provides High Definition images of thousands of artifacts.
  • Navigation: Tricky to browse, excellent search capabilities. This is an fabulous tool so long as you know what you are looking for.
  • Teacher Resources: No lesson plans or activities, purely material resources.
  • Web 2.0: No web 2.0 incorporation.

As you can see, there are numerous and extensive resources readily available to educators. The six that I highlighted are a good start, but hardly an all encompassing list. If you have suggestions or additions, please add them here! In the meantime, get browsing for some great material and lesson plan ideas!

Field Trip Experiment – Kids Using Google Goggles at the Museum

Recently, my AP Art History kids and I took a field trip to the Dallas Museum of Art and the Nasher Sculpture Center. I decided that it would be a great opportunity for the students to play with Google Goggles – we could see how it works in practice and I could bug my students for input on the best ways to employ this tool for school. If you’re not familiar with Google Goggles, check out this video below:

I gave them the opportunity to earn extra credit and encouraged those without Smart Phones to share. I gave them the assignment to use Google Goggles on a minimum of two (2) pieces (they could do more if they wanted) and to answer the following questions:

Were the results quick? 

Were the results accurate? 

Does the information appear thorough?

What type of resources does Google locate? 

Does it solely return secondary resources or primary as well? 

Any other observations of note?

I also encouraged them to include pieces that did *not* pull up on on Google Goggles, as we want to see its breadth. The students were eager to use the tools on the trip – borrowing each other’s and even my own phone to try it out. We noticed some stark differences between sculpture and paintings, as well as Modern Art and “Classical.” Sculpture would often not pull up, unless you took the photo from a very specific angle (and even then, you had to take two or three pictures). Paintings were more readily able to be found via Google Image search – the exception being Modern Art with more saturated colors (such as a Rothko). As per usual, I was thoroughly impress with what my students produced.

Here are a few examples of their findings (some with pictures):

Overall, the students found Google Goggles easy (and even fun) to use. However, it does need some further development. Still, they almost universally told me that they would be using it on all future museum visits to learn more about the art around them. One also mentioned that she would be going to Europe with her family during Spring Break and that she planned on giving it a whirl in Italy with the monuments.

Jackson Pollock Demonstrates Physics in his Strokes

Jackson Pollock, the man who brought American art to the forefront of the field and one of the father’s of the abstract expressionist movement, was not applying slap-dash, free-flung practices in his famous ‘splatter paintings.’

A group of physicists and mathematicians have released a carefully analyzed study of his work and have concluded that:

They found that Pollock’s drizzles, drips and splashes could be explained by physical phenomena known as jets, drops and sheets. Each is governed by the laws of fluid dynamics, which Pollock exploited using careful technique and manipulating the thickness of his pigments and paints with water and solvents, according to the researchers.

Their findings were published in a recent edition of Physics Today. While many people examine Pollock’s splatter paintings and think “My six year old could do that!” Science would seem to disagree!

“By pouring paint in this continuous jet fashion or by dripping it, he incorporated physics into the process of painting itself,” study researcher Andrzej Herczynski, a physicist at Boston College, said in a statement. “To the degree that he did and to the degree he varied his materials — by density or viscosity — he was experimenting in fluid dynamics, although his aim was not to describe the physics, but to produce a certain aesthetic effect.”

Read more about the article here at MSNBC or in Physics Today (with a paid subscription or single buy for the article).