In Praise of the Website Previously Known as Google Art Project

Google Art Project, while still obscure, has grown up a bit. It has taken on a new name: The Google Cultural Insitute. How truly stuffy of them. Art Project had such a nice simple ring to it. Want to learn about art? Go to the Google Art Project! Now you have to attend the Cultural Institute and hope that your attire is up to the standards of Google.

Seriously though, if you haven’t used Google’s Cultural Institute, give it a whirl. The idea is simple. Google’s people have gone to several famous museums throughout the world and taken very high resolution (gigapixel) images of some of the greatest works of art out there. You can literally zoom in and see brush strokes on a Van Gogh. You can get much closer digitally than you could in a real museum. The images are breathtaking and allow the viewer to really get to know a work of art.

In my Humanaities class, our students present an Aesthetic Appreciation Paper to the class. They choose a work of art and then they break it down into categories for discussion. What do you see? What do you feel? What do you associate with? And what does it all mean?

In the past, students had been using Google Image search to find art work. This led to many basic issues. First of all, quality was always questionable. There is no way a 800×600 version of a great Monet is going to do it justice. Then there is the question of “where did that picture come from?” I noticed that some paintings that students would find did not match the versions I had seen before. They had been cropped. Colors were altered. Something just wasn’t right about them.

Enter the Google Art Project. I found this website a few years ago, and it instantly changed my approach to the art presentation. I created a folder for works from the various eras we were studying. I sent this link to students to help them narrow down their art choices. This way, I can guarantee that the students are picking a quality work of art that has a known pedigree.

And the fun doesn’t stop there. Not only does the Cultural Institute offer all these amazing paintings and museums for our persual for free, it also offers a “Details” tab for each work of art that gives museum quality information about each work. Students can find out quite a bit about each painting without having to risk wikipedia or some other questionable website. They are getting information directly from the source. Sometimes curators have even created videos to explain the works of art.

I will admit that some of the tools are clunky. I still struggle to add new works to my collection. But I’m sure Google will iron out the bugs and make it simpler to use and more integrated with other Google products. Right now, I invite you to go there to just walk through the halls of and of the 361 museums including the MOMA, Musée d’Orsay, or even the Uffizi Gallery. To see these amazing works in this way will simply take your breath away.

So don’t feel too put out by the name change. The Cultural Institute is still an amazing place to visit.


Faking it: How strict is your curriculum?

We have a new person joining our Humanities team next semester. He’s going to dive head first into our curriculum and I’m worried that he’ll drown under the weight of 2000 years of philosophy, art and literature. I’m sure he’ll be fine.

As I was preparing the curriculum chart for the next semester, I thought about making a step-by-step guide of all that I do in my classroom. I could just keep track of every formative activity we do in the classroom. I can give him my handouts and lessons and give him a ready-to-go, out of the box curriculum guide! Make it easy for him!

Then I realized that I don’t really have anything like that. I titled this blog “Faking it” because, despite my sixteen years in the classroom, I often feel like I’m just faking being a teacher. I’m not like other teachers. I don’t have everything planned out carefully in binders with laminated sheets and carefully planned presentations and lessons. I don’t know exactly how many grades I’ll give in a given quarter or even what I’ll be doing the next day in class.

Confession time, right?

I have always felt like if I plan too much, then I’m missing out on the most important and fun part of teaching. Every year is different. Every classroom is unique. Every group of students deserves to be treated as a different group. With a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching, I feel like I would miss out on that most joyful experience of discovery that comes when I limit my planning and let the spirit of education move me!

So would I be doing a disservice to create this pre-fab curriculum for my new team member? Or would I be doing a disservice to NOT create it? To be or not to be, right?

I never like to be told what to teach or how to teach it. But maybe that’s a fault of my own stubborn drive to be different. Maybe other teachers do like to have plans handed to them. Is it just me? I don’t know. I’ve been doing this a long time, and I still don’t know.

Being at Westside has given me the opportunity to be much more prepared and much more of a professional teacher than I had been in the past. I have a team. We have agreed upon summative assignments. We do mostly the same thing at the same time, so there is definitely more planning here than elsewhere. But I still want to hold on to some of my independence and individuality, and I want others to feel the freedom to do so as well.

My Humanities Curriculum ChartP
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Curious Spammers

After my previous post, which complained about spam comments, I received more spam comments than I’ve ever gotten before. I checked, and my Captcha filter is working… so I don’t know how in the name of heaven that could happen.

225 spam comments from all over the internet. I found this wonderful plugin and I just deleted all of the pending comments. I hope that some weren’t legit. I seriously doubt it. But if you did comment, and I deleted it, I sincerely apologize. I just wasn’t going to read through all of those comments about expensive, luxury bags. What did I ever do to Louis Vuitton to deserve the wrath of spam?

Did I mention that lots of the spam was related to purses?

I have no idea.