April 11-14, 2007
San Francisco, California

We Are Your Audience

Rachel Horwitz, McKinley Middle School and Cathy Intemann, Albuquerque Public Schools, USA


Remember that wonderful feeling you had when you visited a museum? You could go to whatever exhibit interested you. You could wander aimlessly or stare intently as long as you liked. You could fill yourself with knowledge or gloss over all the information and just look. You could stay as long as you liked or leave when you were through. Students can have the same opportunities in classrooms by using virtual museums. Virtual museums are new tools in the technology arsenal that allow teachers to promote standards for their subjects as well as promote reading, writing and research. They give students the opportunity to wander through and wonder at the world’s best museums with the same freedom that we experienced with our actual visits.

Museums have the objects that pertain to the subjects teachers teach. A good, interactive, museum Web site provides teachers with dynamic material that hooks students in ways textbooks cannot. Interactive museum Web sites can align information to standards for English, math, science, social studies, fine arts, and technology. Students are the museum audiences of the future and as such need to be acclimated to possibilities of virtual museums by seeing collections in their classrooms. Museums with the right Web sites are the portals.

We propose to demonstrate how teachers align instruction to standards, how we choose a Web site from an Internet search, and how we integrate the museum Web sites into the classroom lesson to broaden and enhance instruction. We want our students to wonder at and wander through the museums of the world

Keywords: Museums in classrooms, museums and educational standards, teaching, standards, interactive, museum collections, future patrons


“Mrs. Horwitz, look what I found in the mummy!” shouts an excited sixth grader exploring the British Museum’s Ancient Egyptian site as part of a social studies lesson. “I will think about art differently now,” another student writes in an impromptu response after viewing Vermeer paintings from the Rijksmuseum to support a unit on the book Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett. “Ms. Intemann, look at this amazing silk painting,” says a seventh grader learning to appreciate the beauty in Chinese art found in the museum of the Forbidden City while reading Ma Yan’s Diary-The Hopes and Dreams of a Chinese School Girl by Ma Yan. These are some of our experiences as we began using virtual museums to enhance classroom instruction.

A history that brought us to this place is relevant to our discussion of using virtual museums in the classroom. Rachel Horwitz attended the 2006 international conference of Museums and the Web as a public school librarian intrigued by the concept. When she returned to school, her enthusiasm was contagious, and she found a willing listener and co-participant in Cathy Intemann, a 7th grade language arts and literature teacher. We began our partnership by planning a presentation for the New Mexico Council of Teachers of English fall conference in October 2006. Our theme was linking virtual museums to literature that could be used in the classroom. Rachel searched for young adult literature (appropriate for sixth through eighth graders) that could be linked to a virtual museum. We made an extensive list of literature with Web sites that supported the literature. Our themes varied from the Holocaust to Abraham Lincoln and the Newberry Award winning book Lincoln: A Photobiography, to Egypt and the book, Mara, Daughter of the Nile, to another Newberry winner, Crispin, Cross of Lead, set in Medieval Europe. The bibliography shows the result of our initial searches.

Cathy was searching for ways to bring these museum Web sites into her classroom and incorporate them into reading, writing and research activities.

Our original presentation to the English teachers has subsequently expanded to include more subject areas such as social studies and science. It also has given us the opportunity to evaluate museum Web sites more closely as we continue our search for the perfect match between student and museum Web site.

Our School and its Demographics

McKinley Middle School is a 53-year-old school in the middle of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Our students come from mainly working class families, with many single parents. The population is fairly transient, and 75% of our students are eligible for free and reduced cost lunch. They represent the ethnic and cultural make-up of the city of Albuquerque itself. We have a predominantly Hispanic population but we also have a high percentage of Native American students from the surrounding pueblos and the reservations of the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni to our west. We also have a small population of African American, Asian American, and immigrant students from places such as Kosovo, Croatia, Afghanistan, and, of course Mexico, and Latin America. We have a high population of special education students and English as second language students.

Albuquerque and New Mexico have many museums that our students can visit with their family or with their schools. We have the New Mexico Museum of Natural History, the Albuquerque Museum of Art, an Atomic Museum, a children’s, hands-on museum-Explora, a hot air balloon museum, as well as state museums in the capital city, Santa Fe, just 50 miles away. We also have a variety of smaller independent museums and museums affiliated with the University of New Mexico, such as the anthropology, geology, and art museums. Even with these many opportunities, some students’ sole experiences with museums are trips organized by teachers and taken with classmates. Many of them have never been out of state or out of the immediate region. Their personal lives are filled only with the popular culture of TV, video games, play stations and Internet and radio and whatever culture the home provides. Their cultural landscape is fairly barren.

New Mexico Standards

As with most of the states in the U.S., teachers are required to build their curriculum and instruction around standards that are designed for their subject area by strands. These are then broken down further into benchmarks, content standards and finally performance standards. Benchmarks cover several grades while content and performance standards relate to a specific grade. ( These standards are roughly based on national standards from the respective professional teacher organizations. The National Council of Teachers of English have standards, (, as well as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, (, the National Council for Social Studies, ( and the National Academies of Science ( Even subjects in the Fine Arts have state and national standards ( Not only does the state have standards, but our local school district has standards as well, and these are slightly different from the state standards as we have six strands. (

Typical Lessons Involving the Web


Here is how a typical lesson would evolve using standards. The New Mexico Standards for seventh grade requires a seventh grade student to “analyze how literature expresses and transmits culture” (APS Language Arts standards 7th grade). Cathy wants to teach The Diary of Ma Yan by Ma Yan. This recent book is an autobiographical diary of a teenaged girl from a rural province in China who desperately wants to go to school. She has great difficulty because of her family’s poverty, the distance of the school, the cost for her to attend, and the need for her help at home. Cathy plans to read the diary with her students but also wants to incorporate writing experiences with her reading. She plans to have her students keep a diary as well while they read the book. She will give the entry for each day. The standard that states the student “expresses individual perspective on personal, social, cultural and historical issues,” will meet her purpose. Now, how else can she make the girl’s story and her dilemma come alive? Cathy plans three other activities. She uses an Internet site that translates her students' names into Chinese characters. But still she is concerned that the very different values of the Chinese culture will not be clearly comprehended by her students. So she wanders to the library where she asks Rachel to find examples of Chinese culture. Rachel finds an interactive and easy to navigate Web site ( at the Museum of the Forbidden City, the Palace Museum. Cathy evaluates the Web site and plans how she will integrate the website.

She schedules time at our library computer lab. Here students come to do research using the computers. We have two other computer labs, but these are used for technology classes as part of the scheduled day. Rachel gives a brief introduction to the Web site and the museum. Cathy and Rachel decide they will have students examine various prized items from a collection and a second collection of items that women cherish. Cathy has elected not to make the students do any writing on their findings. She encourages students to look at a wide range of items from both collections.

As the students roam virtually through the various artifacts, Cathy and Rachel walk around and converse with students about what they observe. When we return to class, Cathy continues the discussion with her whole class. She asks students to describe what the Chinese value. Students should be able to do this after reading the book and looking at the collection from the virtual museum Web site. All of these activities: reading Ma Yan’s Diary, writing in their own diary, using the Internet to find their name in Chinese characters, using the virtual museum, and taking a test, should meet the standards Cathy originally prepared her lesson around.


Cathy also taught a mystery Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett. In this book the painting A Lady Writing is stolen from the Museum of Art in Chicago. Two young detectives, Petra and Calder, try to recover the painting and find out who stole it. It seems only appropriate to examine Vermeer paintings if we are going to understand the references to Vermeer. Off we go to the library again, this time to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam to look at the Vermeer paintings. Why go to the museum when we can look at prints from images on Google? There are two reasons. The first is that the museum has set up the site so we can zoom in and look at specific portions of the painting and there are four together that we can look at, compare, and contrast. The second is that we can take our students to a real museum and peek at their collection. We can’t do that with an image from Google. Cathy met the following standards with this book and the activities she taught: a student “analyzes a variety of literary selections such as mystery,” and a student “interprets information that is read, heard, or viewed.” (APS Language Arts standards 7th grade.) She concluded by having her students make a poster about the book, with specific parameters that she included.

Writing Assignments

Cathy also used a museum Web site for two writing assignments. She was working on descriptive writing and wanted her students to practise writing about a place. We read several stories and essays where setting was important. Then with Rachel’s assistance, we again traveled to a virtual museum. We looked at landscape paintings at the National Gallery of Art in London ( . Each student picked a landscape and used descriptive language to explain the setting depicted. This was a challenging assignment for the students. She used the same Web site for her lesson on describing the physical and personal characteristics of people. We again read a variety of literature that described people, and this time we looked at portraits from the National Gallery. The students were asked to make up a personality for the portrait they chose. They needed to include physical characteristics, describe the person’s personal life, and come up with some secrets and wishes that character might have by using the clues in the portrait. The content standards for these two activities were that a student “demonstrates increasing proficiency in using appropriate technology to present information for the intended audience” and a student “demonstrates increasing proficiency in applying appropriate types of writing.” The more specific performance standards include that the student “structures a written account” and “composes a variety of written work that develops sentence fluency using a variety of multimedia technologies” (APS Language Arts Standards 7th grade).

Social Studies

Let’s examine how we implemented a lesson using a social studies standard for grade six. The Benchmark states students will “Compare and contrast major historical events and figures from ancient civilizations.” The standard says students “describe and compare the characteristics of the civilizations of Egypt…and explain the importance of their contributions to later civilizations.”(Albuquerque Public Schools Social Studies Standards and Benchmarks 6th grade)

Rachel begins by showing a sixth grade social studies teacher a museum Web site that she thinks the teacher could use. In this particular case, it was the interactive Web site from the British Museum entitled “Ancient Egypt” ( The teacher felt that he could use it, so he created a worksheet that required the students to use the Internet to answer the questions. The classes (all seven of them) came to the library and Rachel showed them how to get to the Web site and how to navigate it - very easy for tech-savvy sixth graders. The students enjoyed the Web site because it is diverse and broad enough to hold their interest, and over a two-day period every student completed the worksheet.

What was interesting was that they were content to stay on the Web site even when they had finished the worksheet. Most middle school students have many other things they like to do on a computer, so it was encouraging to see them engaged. To continue the unit on Ancient Egypt, Rachel created an assignment where the students had to use the Web site and books in the library to track down information about real Egyptian artifacts that she had found for sale on the Web. Once again, the students were interested enough in the museum Web site that they completed the assignment and stayed on task. Both assignments satisfied the previously mentioned social studies benchmark and standard.


A science lesson on habitat could use the virtual Web site ( The on-line interactives at the Project ER: Environmental Rescue offer wonderful opportunities for students to investigate the inter-relationships of the living environment. The Life Science content standard requires students to “understand the interdependence of living things and their environments.” The benchmark asks students to “explain the diverse structure and functions of living things and the complex relationships between living things and their environment” (APS Science Benchmarks and Standards).

Art and Library

In January the art teacher teamed up with Rachel, our librarian, to teach a lesson expanding the definition of food in our culture, creating both art and library products. The standards for art are “to use visual arts to express ideas,” and “explore various media to develop and convey ideas through art”(APS fine arts standard). The library standard is to promote “the independent learner” and the benchmark states that the student “designs, develops and evaluates information products and solutions related to personal needs.”

Besides sharing books about food and culture, Rachel also shared with the students paintings of food from the National Gallery in London (;old phone message -- a great picture of Judy Chicago’s masterpiece “The Dinner Party” (soon to be permanently housed at the Brooklyn Museum of Art); and a wonderful totally virtual museum entitled “The Food Museum” actually based in Albuquerque, New Mexico ( “The Food Museum” has an exhibit that highlights the food of New Mexico: that helped the seventh and eighth grade students appreciate the validity of the assignment.

Finding Appropriate Web Sites

How do average teachers go about finding the Web museum to use in classroom instruction?

There are many available Web sites that design an entire lesson for a teacher, complete with standards, activities and evaluations. Teachers can also purchase teachers’ guides for specific books from teacher supply stores. However, my experience is that teachers will pick and choose what they like and what is useable for their students. Outlines, teaching ideas, suggestions, Internet links are all more valuable than trying to design a one size fits all lesson. Obviously, when a Web designer prepares a site, he cannot make it specific to one grade, one subject, or one standard. Standards are designed to spiral through the curricula through all of the grades, so often big ideas will recur throughout the entire twelve grades, gradually becoming more and more complex. It seems providing structure and easy access to information, activities, and collections is the most valid way to set up a museum site.

Teachers generally use the body of a lesson or a teaching unit year after year, and once they find a successful lesson, they will use it again and again, with modifications. For most subjects the standards do not offer much deviation. Language arts and literature are much more open- ended, and so teachers can meet the standards by choosing from a wide range of literature. But after they have prepared a piece of literature for instruction (organized the reading, prepared vocabulary and activities, and constructed an evaluation and assessment) and found that it works well with students, they do not eagerly add new works. A literature teacher may add or change one or two pieces of writing a year, if any. So you can see that museum Web sites have a very small portal open into the teacher’s curriculum. The Web sites must have immediate accessibility and appeal for the teacher to even open it up and explore. Currently at McKinley only three teachers out of a faculty of 40 have made use of virtual museums through our library. These are the three discussed in this paper.

Let’s take a teacher doing Web searches for several award-winning books they might want to teach in their middle school language arts class. How would the teacher go about finding useful museum Web sites? First, using the Albuquerque Public Schools Language Arts Standards, the teacher will find the standards she is planning to have her students meet. Cathy is considering using two Newberry Award books, A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park and The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman. The performance standards that fit these books are the student “analyzes a variety of text (historical fiction),” “analyzes problems and solutions within various texts,” “generates further questions,” and “explains the importance of and describes connections between related topics” (APS 7th grade language arts standards). Both of these novels are set in specific historic time periods and lend themselves well to using a virtual museum. Cathy has begun planning her lessons for these novels and begins a search for virtual museums and other helpful Web sites.

An Internet search for Korean pottery yields three useful sites: The Metropolitan Museum (, the Asia Society Museum ( and a non-museum site that is very interactive and useful, ( After visiting each site she decides there is enough useful information in each that she can combine them into a good lesson on Korean Celadon pottery. Students can view examples of the pottery and learn more so their understanding of Tree-ear, the main character, and his study with the Master potter Min is more meaningful.

She then starts a search on the Middle Ages. After four pages of searching on Google, she cannot find one good, child-friendly museum that could be used in a classroom. She gives up and chooses other resources to increase understanding of the Middle Ages and what life would be like for the main character in the book. (Most teachers will quit searching after two pages of Google. They will give up rather than waste more time.) Cathy may use a projector for the entire classroom or have everyone use a computer to search; she may make copies, give students directions and assign the search as homework. How she decides to use the Web site is dynamic and flexible.

Web Designers and Teachers

For the museum Web designer, the teacher is the first hurdle to get past. There are two more important factors that will determine the success of the museum. The first is how appealing the site is to the user- a kid! The second factor is how easily the site can be accessed in a school setting. Students are technologically savvy, and they know what they like and they know what they don’t like. The first thing that will stop the average student is large amounts of text and very few graphics. Second, too many steps (links) to get where they want to go will distract them. So a good user- friendly site for a student has to be simply stated with clear instructions, and it must take the student directly to where he wants to look and it must have an interactive element. If there is an activity for the student to ‘play,’ the instructions must almost be self-explanatory or have only minimal directions and the student must be able to successfully use the game.

School computers have limitations in their ability to use complex programs. While searching for a site, Cathy was asked to install Shockwave before she could access the activity. However, the school had blocked Shockwave to prevent kids from going to games. So the instructional games she wished to use were not available to her no matter how well designed they were. One solution to this is to offer the activity in an easy to access format and again with the Shockwave added as another option. Another site required Adobe Reader to be downloaded. Again, in a computer lab setting this was not available. Even with high speed Internet, many students at once on computers slow our computers down. We are connected to a district wide server so at certain times of the day the computers may be especially slow due to high use. Big programs can also be very slow to access. Because school computers vary widely in how they are administered and what they provide, the guideline “the simpler the better” applies. If a Web site is simple and easy to access, easy to use, and requires no extra installations, there is a greater likelihood that it will be used in a classroom setting.

Why do virtual museum Web designers need students and teachers? We are your audience. These pre-visits get our children, future adults, into the habit of visiting museums to find general information such as times, prices, on-line stores and so on. More important, they turn museums into living textbooks. They are the fluid repositories of knowledge. They are the digital heritage of mankind. The museums have the expertise, the artifacts and the support of public monies to make their holdings available to anyone.

We hope our students will return to the museum on their own.

The school librarian can be the school’s gatekeeper to the best and most interactive of the virtual museum Web sites. The librarian searches, introduces, and expands on lessons to facilitate the classroom teachers’ lessons. The librarian can help teachers and students with navigation of museum Web sites, assist by lecturing before the virtual museum is visited, and make connections with additional resources - books and other holdings that are available system wide.

What might our school’s future use of museum Web sites look like? We would love to see virtual museums offer increased use of video and audio features. We would also like more chances for interaction with curators or experts through questions and real time or e-mail answers. Live cams and more on-line uses for students who may have opportunities for streaming video or podcasting in their homes would provide incentives for teachers and students. Other types of interactive, open communication could include on-line discussion groups between the museum and even other participating schools, blogs, facilities to post our students’ observations, comments, stories, images and other collaborative activities. We would love to see portals that make outreach for teachers to these types of projects easy to negotiate, participate in and manage. The on-line collaborative museum projects described in Nadia Arbach’s article (see reference) have potential for our middle school students, but we need an ‘invitation’ from museums. We need to see postings from museums inviting interested participants (teachers and students) to check out the available collaboratives to see if they fit into our curricula.

It is a slow process for public schools to update their technologies as they depend on local and state funding: bond issues, mill levies, and state appropriations. Sometimes it can take years from the time the funding is approved to the actual implementation in the school. So realistically, schools are always behind in their technology. However, the possibilities are exciting even with the existing state of our hard and software. Museums have much to offer us.

As we prepare our students for literacy in the 21st century, students will need basic language literacy that includes on-line reading strategies, visual literacy, historical literacy, cultural literacy, information literacy, political literacy, news media literacy, scientific literacy, and mathematical literacy. ( It is easy to see from this comprehensive list that there are many of these kinds of literacy where virtual museums can make major contributions in helping teachers to develop and share competency in each of them.

In his article “In Search of the Ubiquitous Museum,” Kevin Sumption talks about electronic field trips. In his words, “when switched on, future ubiquitous museums should be able to function as comprehensive archives of material culture, capable of operating in all places at all times.” (Museums and the Web 2006). The Web museum gives added value to classroom learning by actually showing the students that there is a reason for what they are learning, by showing them the connection to the real world. The virtual museum effectively uses the power of the digital world by blending the past with present and future technologies and brings the collected knowledge of the world to our digital fingertips. We can allow our students to wonder about and wander through the many museums of the world.

Selected Reading List/Assignments for Middle School with Supporting Web Museums

Writing Assignments: Landscapes and Portraits

Big Ideas

Literary Terms






Middle Ages

Ancient Egypt

Prehistoric Man

Individual Books


“21st Century Literacies.,” August 22, 1999. Revised 11/23/06

Albuquerque Public Schools Standards. see Site Navigation.

Arbach, Nadia., “A Multiplicity of Voices: Encouraging and Developing On-Line Collaborative Projects for Schools,” in J. Trant and D.Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2006, Proceedings,. Toronto: Archives and Museum Informatics, Available:

Balliett, Blue (2004). Chasing Vermeer., Scholastic, New York: Scholastic.

Ma Yan. Diary of Ma Yan (2005). Harper Collins, American edition.

National Gallery of Art: London

New Mexico Public Education Department.

Sumption, Kevin. “In Search of the Ubiquitous Museum: Reflections of Ten Years of Museums and the Web”. In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2006 Proceedings. Toronto: Archives and Museum Informatics. Available:

Cite as:

Horwitz,R., and C. Intemann, We Are Your Audience, in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2007: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 1, 2007 Consulted

Editorial Note