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Back to School

Back to School

By: Ashley Naranjo, Manager of Educator Engagement, Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access  

Think back to your own student days and you may remember anticipating the beginning of a new year. I am still nostalgic over the smell of new, freshly sharpened pencils; a colorful Trapper keeper to stay organized; and the lengthy list of all the novels we would be reading through the year. 

As students, we might not have realized all the hard work our teachers were putting in during the summer months. Fast forward to this past summer when I had the great fortune to watch more than 180 teachers in action at Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C., as they prepared for this school year with the same excitement that I had as a kid. These teachers hailed from across the country, taught across all disciplines, and made the Smithsonian their laboratory for creative teaching ideas. 

They visited museums such as the National Portrait Gallery, the National Postal Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum (as well as the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh) for inspiration. They met museum educators such as Briana White, Jessie Aucoin, Phoebe Hillemann, Mariruth Leftwich, and Kate Harris, who worked with them as invaluable allies in employing replicable teaching strategies, finding fascinating objects in the museum collections that would “hook” students, and developing ways to align analysis of these objects with teaching objectives and standards. These teachers developed lessons in the Smithsonian Learning Lab to develop historical thinking skills, share context for an artwork in the AP Art History curriculum, explore plot and setting in a novel and make connections across disciplines with visual, literary, and historical texts.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of their work is that it’s available to you in Smithsonian Learning Lab!  If you would like to use one or more of their collections, you are welcome to do so.  But if you want to change it a bit, just go ahead and copy, adapt, and customize it.

Are digital tools as exciting to students as new pencils and Trapper keepers were to us at their age? Try them and find out! 

Note: Smithsonian Learning Lab collections created during the National Portrait Gallery’s Learning to Look Summer Institutes are tagged with #NPGTeach, those created for the National Postal Museum’s "My Fellow Soldiers: Letters from World War I" workshop are tagged with #NPMTeacherPrograms and those created during the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Teaching the Humanities through Art Summer Institutes are tagged with #SAAMTeach.  

Children Approaching the Smithsonian Building

Image: Children Approaching the Smithsonian Building (detail), Smithsonian Archives-History Division
Two young boys stand on the National Mall holding lunchboxes as they look at the north front of the Smithsonian Institution Building. The statue of Joseph Henry, first Secretary of the Smithsonian (1846-1878), faces the Mall, and cars are parked on the street in front of the building.