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Featured Website of the Month (Aug.) - The Smithsonian

Welcome to the Smithsonian, where history comes alive! Quite literally, if you’ve watched Night at the Museum, which is set in the Natural History wing of the Smithsonian.

Whether you watched the movie or had to pleasure of going to the Smithsonian in person, you know that this is a place that holds a lot of world history. Here are some odd things you might see: Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, Teddy Roosevelt’s teddy bear and a phaser from the originalStar Trek. To be sure, there are many typical history artifacts in the museum as well. Some of these include works of arts from over the centuries, exhibits about prehistoric animals, and artifacts from ancient civilizations.

The Smithsonian offers a website called Smithsonian Learning Lab, which is a good resource for making Social Studies more interesting for young minds. The website’s motto is “Discover, Create, Share.” This learning lab website could become a fantastic resource for teachers and homeschool parents. For children who are not able to travel thousands of miles to visit the Smithsonian on the east coast, this website provides a great alternative.

Users have to create an account, which is free. On the website, there are links to resources for teachers, curriculum developers, parents, librarians, and learners. At first, the website might seem tricky to navigate because there are so many options. However, the website designers did a good job of providing instructions to help the user learn how to navigate. That being said, I would suggest that the teacher or parent play around with the website before letting children try it. The kids might need some extra support to understand how to locate different options.

There are options for educators to create collections of artifacts for students to look through. The teacher or parent can create quizzes or assignments on the website which would help guide students through their investigation of various artifacts, descriptions and videos.

The learning lab also provides the option for students to search a topic of interest and explore the resources available. For example, when I searched Ancient Egypt, over 5,000 resources appeared. These included videos, pictures, text and activities. I was able to refine the search by specifying what type of resource I was searching for. For example, when I clicked on the “video” button, there were 8 videos about Ancient Egypt. When I clicked on the “Currently on Exhibit” button, 16 resources were available.

It is important to note that I recommend adults be present while kids are searching this site because, just like in a physical museum, there are things in the online museum that might not be appropriate for young viewers. For example, ancient art often centered on nude or partially nude people, so some of these images might be present when certain things are searched. That being said, since teachers are able to create their own collections of artifacts for students to look at, the teacher would be able to weed out the inappropriate images before the students access the collection. Also, in the Smithsonian descriptions of artifacts, it might state that something is millions of year old. This may be a point of contention for those, like myself, who believe the Earth is much younger than that.

All that to say, the Smithsonian Learning Lab does provide a good way for kids to see some famous artifacts and interact with them, especially if those kids live on the west coast. It might not be practical to travel thousands of miles to visit the Smithsonian Museum. But it would be practical to visit the Smithsonian Learning Labs.


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