21st Century School | Feature

Teaching With Content Curation

With two mobile laptop carts that are used primarily for technology classes and a student body that has limited access to computers outside of school, Stockton Collegiate International School isn’t exactly a hotbed of ed tech. That stumbling block doesn’t stop the K-12 charter school in Stockton, CA, from doing what it can to cultivate its 21st Century learners and prepare them for college and the workforce.

In Hauna Zaich’s 8th- and 10th-grade English classes, for example, students—a good portion of whom are English learners—are using a process known as “content curation” to cull through the many resources on the web, select the most relevant ones, and then organize those resources in a logical format for sharing and later use.

Defined as the act of discovering, gathering, and presenting digital content that relates a specific subject, content curation is less about creating new resources and more about amassing information and then maintaining it in a logical fashion. In K-12 education, content curation tools can be used to collect and share reading materials with students, stoke conversation about current events, develop group activities, and critique web-based material.

Using the curation platform Learnist, Zaich pulls informative resources from the web (including videos, images, articles, and quizzes), curates them, and then makes the information available to her students both in and out of school. When teaching 10th-grade grammar lessons, for example, Zaich replaces a textbook with the many different SAT, GMAT, and GRE test prep materials that are available for free online. She collects video tutorials, handouts, lessons, and other materials on a “board” that students access using their own computers or mobile devices.

One of Zaich’s curated boards introduces 10th graders to verb tenses, subject/verb agreement, and active versus passive voice to prep them for a writer’s workshop. Positioned prominently at the top of the board is an infographic that shows students how to take notes using the Cornell note-taking system. The board also includes a summary of active and passive voices added from GMAT and a lesson on the topic from Purdue Online Writing Lab.

Another board is populated with resources like a YouTube video lesson on verbs and verb tenses from School House Rock and a lesson on verb problem-solving from SAT/ACT.

Flipping the Classroom

When selecting content to curate, Zaich said she looks for “areas where my students are having problems,” and then focuses her efforts in those areas. Sifting through the many different web-based options takes time, she added, but definitely pays off by allowing her to create a “flipped classroom” where students take it upon themselves to supplement their learning outside of normal school hours.

Most of Zaich’s students rely on personal iPods to access the content, since many of them do not have access to computers other than those at school or at the local public library. Those limitations drive Zaich, a lifelong resident of Stockton who has watched her hometown’s makeup change dramatically over the last decade, to infuse technology into her classroom to help students overcome the difficulties of living where they do. “We have the highest murder rate in the state right now, and are operating in an urban environment where many students come from homes that lack academic backgrounds,” said Zaich.

Founded in 2010 as an alternative to traditional public educational offerings, Stockton Collegiate is a chartered institution with 340 students in grades 6-12 and a separate primary school. Authorized as an International Baccalaureate (IB) school the year it opened, the institution receives the bulk of its funding from student attendance and operates with a limited IT budget.

That doesn’t stop Zaich from putting technology into her students’ hands. “One day I was looking at all of the materials, connections, blogs, publications, and information online,” she said, “and realized that I could use curation to sort through them, organize them, and make them more accessible to my students from a single platform.”

Technology with a Purpose

Curation also allows Zaich to achieve her overall goal, which is always using technology in a purposeful manner. “As teachers, we get bombarded with new technology and content daily,” she said. “I don’t like to use technology for the sake of it, and would rather put my efforts where I know they will make a difference for my students.” Zaich added that being able to logically scan, assemble, and organize content for students also makes her more effective as a teacher.

“My lessons are more relevant because I’m not constantly going back to the web to find information,” said Zaich, who used curation for a recent lesson on plagiarism with her 10th grade English students. She pulled articles, videos, and other information relating to popular writers who had been accused of the crime, curated the information on a board, and then taught the lesson based on those “real-life” examples.

“The lessons always sink in better when students see how the subjects apply in real life, versus just out of a textbook,” said Zaich. She also encourages students to do their own curation on topics that relate to their studies, and helps them set up their own online repositories for the information. She sees content curation as one more tool that educators can use to get students more comfortable using technology and leveraging the massive amounts of data that’s at their fingertips.

“We may not have computers for every student in our classrooms, but we definitely have the opportunity to enhance our students’ knowledge and get them ready for the real world,” said Zaich. “As an IB school we really want to give students content that they can sink their teeth into. Curation is one way to do that.”

5 Content Curation Tools

Ready to get a handle on all of the information that you collect online? Check out these online curation tools, not all of which are focused on the education space:

Learnist guides students to curate videos, blogs, books, docs, images, or anything on the web.

Pearltrees is designed to build communities via link-sharing.  

Pinterest is a virtual pinboard for organizing and sharing content.
(Here’s an example of an English literature reading list.)

Scoop.it helps users develop and share publications built around a specific theme.

Storify allow users to curate social media content.