Educator Spotlight: Curating Digital Museums Makes Geography Personal

Our Educator Spotlight series features inspiring activities and lessons that educators are implementing with their students that connect them to the world in bold and exciting ways. Educators often use these projects to complete their National Geographic Educator Certification.  

Laura Krenickis sixth-grade class examined the paths of people and objects from a geographic perspective. The class read an Explorer magazine article by Paul Salopek, a National Geographic Explorer, and participated in a live video event with him. Then, students designed and curated their own digital museum exhibits.

Laura Krenicki teaches social studies at William J. Johnston Middle School in Colchester, Connecticut. Photo by Krystal Rose

What was the goal of your National Geographic Educator Certification project?

I focused my project around the compelling question, “How does the past connect to our present?”

Using the National Geographic Explorer magazine article “Out of Eden” (October 2018) by Paul Salopek, students learned how stories and objects move around the world both culturally and physically. The article explains Paul’s multi-year around-the-world journey and includes his observations of people and customs. (Follow the Out of Eden Walk here!)

As a National Geographic Explorer, Paul Salopek is documenting the human journey of migration: the stories he hears and the objects he sees all tell the stories of movement. My students and I used primary source documents and artifacts to explore our own histories: how objects, traditions, and stories came to be in our families, and how we can track their journeys.

 Educators: Download full lesson plan here

How did reading about Paul’s journey, and then participating in a live video event with him, support your students’ projects?

I used Explorer magazine as the foundation for this project because it added a level of authenticity to our inquiry investigation. Reading the article and then participating in an Explorer Classroom live video event with Paul helped students see value in their own family histories, allowing them to better focus on their own investigations of their families’ stories.

Seeing Paul speaking—understanding that he is a real person—connected students to his story on a new level. It also helped us focus on the geography of movement by asking questions such as, “Why would donkeys be better than camels in some regions for carrying Paul’s gear?” The experience moved students to think more deeply about human-environment interactions and the changeable geography of each region Paul travels through.

Inspired by Paul Salopek’s description of the footprints of people he met in his travels, Laura’s class made their own “footprints.” The footprints tell the story of the shoe’s journey to the wearer and the adventures of the shoe and wearer. Photo by Laura Krenicki

Could you tell us more about your students’ digital museums of objects?

For the digital part of the project, students had to curate their own personal objects. We looked at ways museums curate exhibits. We discovered that some exhibits include a group of objects centered around a theme, while others examine one object and follow the story across time and place.

Working like historians, pairs of students completed close readings of objects. They made observations, analyzed the objects, and then made predictions. Photo by Laura Krenicki

Students decided individually what type of story their curated exhibit would tell. In some cases, it meant editing out some objects because they weren’t easily related. In other cases, it meant investigating family histories and interviewing family members to find out how a family heirloom moved from place to place. These interviews impacted the students because in many cases they hadn’t yet learned their family histories.

For example, the theme of one student’s exhibit was his grandfather’s service on the U.S.S. Tacoma. The student had photographs, news articles, and letters. To focus on the story, he narrowed his digital exhibit to five pieces and created an interactive website on the story those five pieces told. He even did a voiceover narration of a letter written by his grandfather to his great-grandmother.

How did this project impact your students on a personal level?

Focusing on the idea of how people migrate and bring objects with them helped students think about their own families’ journeys. They thought more about their roots and how traditions came from other places to their homes.

Students used Google Tour Builder to plot artifacts’ journeys from place to place and share the stories behind them. Photo by Laura Krenicki

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Interested in joining Laura as a National Geographic Certified Educator? Learn more at


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