Posted in Inquiry

Digital Storytelling with Google’s Cultural Institute

Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.
– Hannah Arendt 

Creative expression, regardless of what subject you teach, is in my view a great way to have students make abstract connections to the concrete skills that they are learning. When I taught math there was always a place for students to create digital stories of the concepts that they were learning. I usually made this lesson a tent pole lesson, which were my lessons that happened in the middle of the unit. I found that these stories often painted a very clear picture of whether or not there was any learning happening. They become an important piece of my assessment puzzle.

There are so many tools and different ways to have students work with digital storytelling now that it can be hard at times to seperate the good from the not so good. I generally recommend that the tool should not get in the way of the outcome, which in this case would be a story. The tool should be easy enough to use that any age, or ability level, can do so. One such tool that I have had success with using is Google’s Cultural Institute.

Really? Google Has  Cultural Institute?

Google’s Cultural Institute combines the efforts of the Art Project, World Wonders and Historic Moments. It’s full of really high resolution photographs that allow you, on some art, to zoom all the way into the brush stroke. You can use the CI to do a virtual field trip of some of the best museums in the world by clicking on the Museum View dude (Streetview dude in Google Maps). My favorite Museum View is the White House. It actually gives you the feel of walking through the actual White House and looking at all of the amazing works of art that they have.

A newer feature of the CI is the ability to combine your saved artworks into your very own gallery. You can add text (200 characters, slightly more than a tweet), or link to a YouTube video. The CI also allows you to make your gallery open to the public. Because there is so much contained here the possibilities are quite endless on how you can use the CI with students.

It’s Google, So Search On

Since the CI is a Google product you have the ability to search. If you are looking for specific types of art, explore the artworks and search for what you are looking by medium.


When you do this you begin to see just how much they have in their collection and how powerful of a learning tool this is for students.

Early Childhood Meets Art

My 4-year old son is very curious about art. Together we have been exploring some of the galleries looking for pieces that interest him. We began saving the blue pieces and then placed his favorite ones into a gallery. I asked him why he liked these pieces and he said that they made him feel happy. With my help we typed up one sentence stories and created Blue Happiness which we have made public.

Math Stories

When I taught math I would have my students write their own stories. It was a way for them to express themsevles and for me to assess whether any learning was transfering. With the CI students have a very easy tool, access to amazing photos and artwork to work with as they write their own math stories. If 200 characters is not enough space you can use the text box to paste a link from a shared Google Document or use YouTube to record a selfie-narration.


My favorite project with my geometry students was to look at art and then identify various geometric concepts happening within the art. With the CI I can now incorporate Google Draw into the lesson. Have students identify geometric concepts that they are learning from the pieces of art and then use Google Draw to explain those concepts back. Instead of text just paste the link to the drawing so that those viewing the gallery can see the visual explanation.

Indiana Jones and the Google

When learning about new cultures, or countries, why not have students use the CI to identify artifacts and create an adventure story with them. For more than 200 characters link a Google Doc to each of the visuals. For more advanced students have them create a “choose your own adventure” story that links together several different galleries that the reader can move through. Use the various types of art to create artifacts that the reader chooses locations to search. Have the students research the artifact and include some interesting facts about it, where it came from and who made it right in the story.

A Picture is Worth…

How a picture is framed, captioned, and distributed can blunt, heighten, or pervert its effect. Are we being informed, or manipulated? Reassure or enraged? The Historic Moments section of the CI is filled with many histroic photographs. It is like looking back at the past through the lens of those that experienced it. Have students create a gallery that answers the questions above. If you are studying about a war you can also have students answer if war is horiffic, or a heroic adventure. Have them play with the captions to change the effect of the photo.

What Does Art Say About the Culture?

Instead of just reading about a culture, or country that the students are learning about, have them explore its art. Here’s a gallery of early 20th century art from Japan. What do the images, colors and artifacts tell us about them? Have students locate art from the country or culture they are learning about and create a gallery that connects the concrete with the abstract.

Go Ahead, Get Yourself Lost

You could spend days exploring the CI and all that it has to offer. I encourage you to do so. Play. Zoom. Save. Create. Reflect. Write. Have fun!


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