K-12 Educational Resources on Conservation

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For teachers and educators[edit | edit source]

We’re so glad you found us! Art Conservation is a profession that blends art, science, and history in our goal to care for and study the art, objects, and historic sites that make up our shared past. The K-12 Outreach Committee believes that the interdisciplinary and inquiry-based nature of the field makes it a natural fit with K-12 educational goals. Art conservation can provide a unique and engaging approach to learning in a wide range of subject areas, and encourages development of skills in critical thinking, creative problem-solving, communication, and collaboration.

Whether you are a classroom teacher, homeschooling, or teaching in an extracurricular program or other setting, this site aims to be your guide to finding educational resources and multimedia conservation content that will interest and excite your students!

We can be reached at K-12@culturalheritage.org to help with ideas, case studies, teaching materials, or connecting with a conservation professional in your area.

Mission Statement
The K-12 Outreach Committee provides ideas, materials, and case studies for collaborations between educators and conservators to integrate conservation-related approaches and topics into a wide range of curricula and activities.

  For more on the connections between conservation and K-12 learning, you can peruse AIC’s position paper on conservation and K-12 education here.

Conservation and cultural responsiveness[edit | edit source]

One of the most exciting aspects of art conservation is the opportunity it can provide for learning the stories of people through the objects they made, used, and cherished.

  • Each object, place or artwork holds a story, and conservators can contribute towards reading, interpreting, and sharing that story.
  • Objects carry information about the culture, language, religion or belief system, values, and hopes of the people who made or used them.
  • Objects that have been treasured over time also carry the stories of those who valued them, and why they did. Changing values around objects can help us understand changing values in societies over time.

Conservators consider themselves as temporary custodians of objects, realizing that the objects have a longer lifetime than we will, and that cultures and values will continue to change around them.  

Conservators recognize a responsibility to the communities for whom these objects hold significance, and are aware of how our decisions to care for, interpret, or present these objects are influenced by our own background and assumptions.

For further reading on conservation ethics and collaborations with communities and stakeholders, see the bibliography here.

Conservation in the classroom[edit | edit source]

Art Conservation topics align well with national and state educational standards in many areas such as Science, ELA, Fine Arts, Mathematics, Social Studies, Technology, and Computer Science.

  • Conservators are trained in material science and the behavior of materials, so that we can best understand the objects in our care, what can happen to them over time, and how to best prevent or slow down chemical or physical changes.
  • We also often have a background in the fine arts, with an understanding of the processes that transform raw materials into works of art or cultural heritage.
  • Our work focuses on human history, the exchanges of ideas, techniques and materials between and among people over time, and the choices people have made to create, preserve, or destroy objects and artworks.
  • Conservators work to preserve all kinds of cultural heritage objects - buildings, monuments, traditional painting, sculpture, decorative arts, paper, textiles, wall paintings, rock art, craft traditions, digital media, archives - the list goes on. This means there are conservators that specialize in understanding the materials and technologies of nearly anything humans have made throughout history!
  • Conservation capitalizes on new imaging technologies ranging from 3D modeling to machine learning and automated image processing to multispectral imaging, always looking for ways to apply new technologies to the understanding and study of cultural heritage.
  • Conservators are also scientists, gathering and analyzing data through a wide variety of analytical methods and data management.


For more on how conservation topics can align with standards in many areas of learning and for different age groups, please see below.

How do I find out more about conservation?[edit | edit source]

Here are some links to find what you might be looking for on the AIC website at www.culturalheritage.org.

1. What is art conservation? For an overview of what art conservators do, visit www.culturalheritage.org/about-conservation/what-is-conservation, and download the brochure to share, What is conservation?

2. How can my student learn more about becoming a conservator? For a description of the path to a career in conservation, visit "Become a Conservator" and "Pre-Program", and check out the Emerging Conservation Professionals Network.

3. Which schools offer graduate study in conservation? To learn more about training programs, explore the Association of North American Graduate Programs and the list of international training programs in conservation and restoration from Wikipedia (archived).

4. What are some projects / work that conservators are doing? See conservation in action on AIC's social media:

YouTube (ECPN Playlist)

Fun for families[edit | edit source]

Perhaps you just read an article about art conservation, met a conservator, or saw conservation in action and you want to learn more as a family or get involved. Here are a few resources that museums and conservators have created to share their work with the public:

  • Owen (age 10) interviews conservator Carolyn Riccardelli about "What if something breaks? can it be fixed? here
  • See a day in the life of Paintings Conservator Amber Kerr here
  • Read how a paintings conservator uses 3D imaging to preserve Judy Baca’s Mural Uprising of the Mujeres here.
  • Watch and learn how Japanese painting conservators conserve Japanese paintings on silk here

You can also find exciting stories about conservation in the media, including:

If you are interested in educational materials, please see the section “For teachers and educators” above.

For conservators and AIC members[edit | edit source]

How can I start working with K-12 students and teachers?[edit | edit source]

For conservators interested in connecting with K-12 students, there are many ways to get involved. The time commitment can range from a short visit or talk to a longer program, depending on the needs and interests of the educator and conservator. Some ideas include:

  • Make a presentation at Career Day or a related event
  • Make a one-time visit to an art, science, or general education classroom or afterschool program
  • Partner with a lunchtime or afterschool club to do an activity or Q&A
  • Offer to be a part of a teacher's lesson plan on an art, science, or social studies topic related to your work
  • Offer to develop a course or series of activities with an educator or youth club leader

Conservation is multidisciplinary, so when considering what content might interest teachers to bring into their classrooms, think broadly. For example, while some conservation treatments might be a natural fit for a chemistry classroom, a pest management program might be very interesting to a life sciences teacher. An art teacher might be interested in how you discover artists' methods and materials, and a social studies teacher might be interested in what can be learned about history from close observation and analysis of historical objects. These are just a few examples of the many ways the work of conservators can intersect with student learning across subjects.

In order to make any of these ideas a reality, reach out to the schools and youth programs in your area to start a conversation and gauge their needs and interests. Remember that educating students happens beyond the classroom, so don't forget to call on the parent coordinator for the school and any parent-teacher organizations for ideas. There may also be afterschool programs and youth organizations in your area that you could work with. Sometimes informal educational settings have more flexibility to accommodate guest speakers and volunteers than schools do. If there is interest, see if you can meet to discuss possibilities.    

If your inquiries don't elicit an enthusiastic response right away, don't be discouraged. Especially with the recent impact of the pandemic on schools and youth programs, you may find that many are not yet seeking volunteers at pre-pandemic levels. If you identify opportunities to volunteer in other capacities (i.e., homework helper, reading partner, etc.), you can develop relationships with students and educators to organically bring about conservation-related programs in time.

The K-12 learning environment[edit | edit source]

Chances are, the K-12 learning environment has changed a lot since you were a student. Here are some characteristics of the changes that might help in your planning process:

Students are active rather than passive learners. This is true for many subjects, but in particular, science education today is based on how science is done in the real world. With teachers as their guides, students are encouraged to do most of the talking and to actually do science to answer their own questions (Lowell & McGowan, 2022). There is less lecture-style direct instruction and more student-led and student-centered learning. In science class settings, consider having students observe phenomena, formulate questions, and then engage in discussion as they attempt to arrive at answers based on evidence, just as real scientists do.

Classrooms are diverse. Today’s classrooms are incredibly diverse in terms of student identities, abilities, language, culture, socioeconomic backgrounds, and so forth. The teacher knows their students best, so it is a good idea to collaborate or, at minimum, share your plans with the teacher well in advance for their thoughts and feedback. For instance, if you plan to share treatment examples, there may be certain objects that would relate to other topics being covered in the class, or that the teacher knows will resonate with students. The goal is to be culturally responsive; that is, to connect the content you are presenting to the diverse perspectives of the students. This approach helps all students excel, but is particularly important to closing achievement gaps for students of color (Gay, 2018). Culturally responsive teaching practice is inclusive; it guides students to solve problems themselves that matter to their lives and invites broad discourse where multiple viewpoints are shared, especially encouraging students to make connections between the content and their own experiences (Glasgow, Cheyne, & Yerrick, 2010). In addition, schools now commonly serve students with and without disabilities in a single general education classroom. In many cases, students with disabilities are expected to master the same curriculum as their peers without disabilities, and teachers are tasked with removing the barriers to their learning (Brigham, Scruggs, & Mastropieri, 2011). As such, a teacher may suggest modifications so materials and hands-on exercises are equally accessible to all. The teacher can also share with you whether or not there are English Language Learners (ELLs) in the classroom or students with other special education needs so that you can prepare accordingly. Planning together will make the classroom experience as beneficial for all the students as it can be.

Students are empowered to make an impact. Teachers can help students recognize their agency and power to change the world around them. Education is not only preparing students for the future—it can empower students to effect change now. The aim of critical pedagogy is “not getting students to listen to convincing lectures by experts, but getting them to speak for themselves in order to achieve, or at least strive toward an equal degree of participation and a better future” (Ross, 2016). When planning a lesson or program, consider the following objectives and how these can be achieved in age-appropriate ways:

  • Does this lesson empower students? If so, how? What actions does it inspire? Could the students do a related project that makes a positive impact on their home, school or community?
  • Is this lesson inclusive of traditionally marginalized voices? If so, how? If not, what perspectives are left out?
  • Have the students learned who has the power to make decisions about cultural heritage and the objects being discussed? Is there time for students to share their feelings about this and consider with whom this power should be shared, and/or to whom it should belong?
  • Are there other ways of knowing about or thinking about these objects? Have diverse knowledge systems been taken into account, especially in contexts where students may be approaching objects from diverse perspectives (i.e., emic vs. etic, Western vs. Indigenous (Knopf, 2015))?

Students are encouraged to demonstrate learning in diverse ways. There are exciting alternatives to one-size-fits-all demonstrations of student learning (e.g., worksheets, written reports, etc.). Working solo or collaboratively, students can demonstrate what they have learned in a myriad of creative ways. They can create illustrations, artworks, articles or short stories, videos, animations, audio recordings or podcasts, social media or blog posts, games, models, software programs, and more. If you are visiting a class for a single period, perhaps students can make a simple sketch to illustrate phenomena they learned, or present their findings to the class to show their understanding. A longer program may allow time for a larger project, performance-based assessment, or portfolio. These projects can travel beyond the school walls and have a wider impact. If you work at an institution, it might be possible to use your institution’s platforms to share student projects with a wider audience and expand the institution’s audience in the process. Regardless of the length of the program, build in time for students to demonstrate their learning. The learning opportunities for conservators in K-12 classrooms are reciprocal and intergenerational, which is one of many rewarding aspects.

The above may seem daunting, but remember: teachers know that you are not a professional K-12 educator, nor do they expect you to be. They want to expose their students to exciting careers and new experiences. For some classroom visits, a Q&A, demonstration, or short presentation may be just right, and the teacher will be there to help make connections and facilitate discussion. Conservators and K-12 educators can work as a team as needed to meet the required standards and objectives that come into play with full-fledged in-class programs and courses.


Brigham, F.J., Scruggs, T.E., & Mastropieri, M.A. (2011). Science education and students with learning disabilities. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 26(4), 223–232. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-5826.2011.00343.x

Gay, G. (2018). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research, and practice (3rd ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.

Glasgow, N. A., Cheyne M., & Yerrick, R. K. (2010). “Culturally responsive teaching and learning.” In What successful science teachers do: 75 research-based strategies. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.

Knopf, K. (2015). The turn toward the indigenous: Knowledge systems and practices in the academy. Amerikastudien / American Studies, 60(2/3), 179-200. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44071904

Lowell, B. R. and McGowan, H. (2022). Using key features to analyze and modify curriculum for the NGSS. Science Scope, 45(3). https://www.nsta.org/science-scope/science-scope-januaryfebruary-2022/using-key-features-analyze-and-modify-curriculum

Ross, E. Wayne. (2016). Broadening the circle of critical pedagogy. In N. McCrary and E. W. Ross (Eds.), Working for social justice inside and outside the classroom (pp. 206-218). New York: Peter Lang. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/280308076_Broadening_the_Circle_of_Critical_Pedagogy

Further reading:

Eggen, P., and Kauchak, D. (2020). Using educational psychology in teaching (11th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Lankshear, C. and Knobel, M. (2013). A new literacies reader: Educational perspectives. New York: Peter Lang.

National Research Council. (2007). Taking science to school: Learning and teaching science in grades K-8. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/11625.

Noel, J. (Ed.). (2020). Classic Edition Sources: Multicultural Education (4th ed.). McGraw-Hill.

Spring, J. (2020). American Education (19th ed.). New York and London: Routledge.

Turnbull, A., Turnbull, R., Wehmeyer, M., & Shogren, K. (2020). Exceptional lives: Practice, progress and dignity in today’s schools (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson.

Conservation connections to educational standards[edit | edit source]

This section contains some ideas and examples for connecting conservation to a variety of content areas. When working in formal educational settings, you may find it helpful to consult the federal and state educational standards relevant to your lesson or presentation. Here are some applicable national standards, but this list is not exhaustive: Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), National Core Arts Standards (NCAS), and Common Core English Language Arts/Literacy (ELA).

There are other applicable standards that could be integrated into lesson planning, including Social Justice Standards (IDJA) and Technology Standards (ISTE).

Connecting conservation to high school chemistry standards[edit | edit source]

Some fundamental concepts of conservation intersect very well with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in high-school chemistry. Below are some examples of how conservators engaging with high-school students might connect their learning in chemistry with conservation:

Disciplinary Core Ideas
Name Description Conservation example
PS1.A Structure and Properties of Matter The structure and interactions of matter at the bulk scale are determined by electrical forces within and between atoms. Adhesives bleeding in paper, paper becoming brittle, etc. - macroscopic condition issues in artworks are related to microscale phenomena
PS2.B Types of Interactions Attraction and repulsion between electric charges at the atomic scale explain the structure, properties, and transformations of matter, as well as the contact forces between material objects. Intermolecular forces are the basis for a lot of core conservation treatment, such as adhesives and cleaning (e.g., “like dissolves like”), and deterioration mechanisms are driven by intermolecular interactions
PS3.A Definitions of Energy At the macroscopic scale, energy manifests itself in multiple ways, such as in motion, sound, light, and thermal energy. These relationships are better understood at the microscopic scale; [...] this includes radiation, a phenomenon in which energy stored in fields moves across space. Light can cause some colors in artworks to fade, and vibration can damage artworks, so even loud events or construction vibration in the galleries are the purview of conservators

Science and Engineering Practices
Name Description Conservation example
Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information in 9–12 builds on K–8 and progresses to evaluating the validity and reliability of the claims, methods, and designs. Communicate scientific and technical information (e.g. about the process of development and the design and performance of a proposed process or system) in multiple formats (including orally, graphically, textually, and mathematically). Conservators create diverse texts about their work and treatments performed, and they constantly evaluate diverse professional texts in order to inform their actions in caring for artworks (e.g., journals, videos, presentations, blog posts, message boards, etc.) - this course gives students the opportunity to engage in a similar process

Crosscutting Concepts
Name Description Conservation example
Energy and Matter Energy can be transferred between one place and another place, between objects and/or fields, or between systems. Damage to artworks from light exposure, etc. (galleries with lower light levels and/or window coverings)
Cause and Effect Cause and effect relationships can be suggested and predicted for complex natural and human designed systems by examining what is known about smaller scale mechanisms within the system. Deterioration of outdoor bronze and marble sculpture due to air pollution (protective coatings on sculpture)
Stability and Change Much of science deals with constructing explanations of how things change and how they remain stable. Stabilization as a conservation treatment - for example, keeping relative humidity (RH) high around some ceramics so that they do not dry out and allow salts to crystallize within, which can damage the ceramic body and/or glazed surface

Connecting conservation to high school ELA/literacy standards[edit | edit source]

It can be very beneficial to students in both science and humanities classes to integrate opportunities for writing and creating texts in various media, including digital and audiovisual. Below are some applicable Common Core standards, which have been adopted in 41 states. Looking at additional standards and specific state guidelines is encouraged to see what connections can be made.

Applicable Common Core ELA/Literacy standards
Name Description
6-12.WHST.1-2 (Grades 6-12, Writing, History/Social Studies and Science/Technical Subjects) Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content. Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.
6-12.WHST.9 (Grades 6-12, Writing, History/Social Studies and Science/Technical Subjects) Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
9-12.SL.5 (Grades 9-12, Speaking and Listening) Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.
6-12.RST. 1 (Grades 6-12, Reading, Science/Technical Subjects) Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts (6-12), attending to the precise details of explanations or descriptions (9-10), and attending to important

distinctions the author makes and to any gaps or inconsistencies in the account (11-12).