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Found 444 Collections


Voting and Design

In this activity, students will design voting machines to make voting in U.S. elections more effective, efficient, and ethical.  Their work will begin with looking closely at voting machines from the late 1800s to the early 2000s and exploring their parts, purposes, and complexities. Then, after reading an article detailing barriers to voting in the 2018 primary election, students will brainstorm opportunities to make voting more effective, efficient, and ethical for voters of the present.  

Examining the construction of these objects within their historical context will give students a better understanding of the evolution of the American voting systems, how barriers to voting have been overcome and created by the machines through which we vote, and will help them understand their agency and power to tackle contemporary issues.  Opportunities to learn more about historical barriers and design solutions to voting are included at the end.

This collection is built using two Project Zero Agency by Design routines: Parts, Purposes, Complexities, a routine for looking closely; and Imagine If..., a routine for finding opportunity.  Questions in each routine are open-ended and should be used to spark peer discussion, so approach them in small groups or as a class.  For more information on how to use and facilitate each routine, see their resource tiles at the end of the collection, as well as the Agency by Design website.

Keywords: agency by design, problem, voter, rights,

Tess Porter

Exploring Complexity: Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way

In this activity, students will analyze an artwork that celebrates the idea of Manifest Destiny and western expansion - Emanuel Leutze's 1861 mural study for Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way, the final version of which rests in the U.S. Capitol Building.  Through the use of two Project Zero Thinking routines - What makes you say that?, a Visible Thinking routine for interpretation and justification; and Parts, Purposes, Complexities, an Agency by Design routine for looking closely - students will consider what message this painting conveys, how choices made by the artist convey that message, as well as what perspectives are portrayed and what perspectives are missing.  After looking critically, students will watch a video and learn from senior curator Richard Murray how to read this painting and what messages/images they may have missed.

This activity can be used as an entry point or supplement in studying westward expansion, the idea of Manifest Destiny, how public perspectives are shaped, and more.  Resources to extend this activity include: a website about the final mural located in the U.S. Capitol Building and a Smithsonian American Art Museum lesson plan about both the mural study and the final mural.

Keywords: Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, manifest destiny, westward expansion

Tess Porter

What Makes You Say That?: Civil War Photograph

Using the Project Zero Visible Thinking routine "What makes you say that?," students will investigate a photograph from the Civil War taken by the studio of Mathew Brady, one of the most prominent American photographers of the 19th century.  The Civil War was the first major war captured on camera and photographs, like this one, played a pivotal role in shaping public perceptions of the conflict.

This activity can be used as an entry point into studying soldiers' experiences during the Civil War, photography's effect on public perspectives about war, and more.  Resources to extend this activity include: a Smithsonian American Art Museum lesson plan investigating this and other photographs from the Civil War, a blog post discussing connections between Civil War photography and President Abraham Lincoln, a Smithsonian Magazine article about Civil War photographer Alexander Gardner, a Learning Lab collection on Alexander Gardner's Photographic Sketchbook of the War, and an article discussing the National Portrait Gallery's recent exhibition The Face of Battle: Americans at War, 9/11 to Now.

Keywords: photo, battlefield, inquiry strategy

Tess Porter



Requiem of Love


Bryan Chavez-Kelly

The Road to Civil Rights

Sarah Billups

Key Moments in WWII: What makes you say that?

Using the Project Zero Visible Thinking routine "What makes you say that?," students will investigate two photographs, taken from different angles, of Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and General Yoshijiro Umezu aboard the USS Missouri as they signed the surrender that would officially end WWII.

Keywords: world war 2, world war ii, general macarthur, carl mydans, primary source, ww2, japanese instrument of surrender, potsdam declaration, inquiry strategy


Tess Porter

Auspicious Symbols in Qing Dynasty Textiles

How can clothing and textiles reveal what was valued in Qing dynasty (1644-1912 CE) China?  How did Chinese cultural associations with the natural world influence fashion and decor of Qing dynasty nobility?  Closely examine Qing dynasty clothing and home furnishings and decor from Freer|Sackler collections to discover auspicious symbols.  Learn about each symbol's significance in Chinese culture. Then, test your eyes and see if you can locate the symbols in other textile examples by answering guided questions. A glossary and exhibition resources are provided for teacher reference.  This Learning Lab Collection was designed as a resource for the Empresses of China's Forbidden City, 1644-1912 exhibition on view at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery March 30 - June 23, 2019.  

Tags:  art; silk; brocade; embroidery; tapestry; velvet; twill; patterns; China; good fortune; clothing; costume; dress; regalia; symbolism; imperial; court; furnishings; nature; plants; animals; flowers; birds 

Freer|Sackler Education


Stimulus for art work or essay on slavery in America. Students  to create a drawing or painting using images to portray the the pain of slavery. Student can select a variety of media.  The essay could be based upon the first person experience  looking through the eyes of a slave.

Mark Poore

Access Series: Places "Real" and "Imagined"

This topical collection of artworks is based upon a wide variety of places and travel spots, both "real" and "imagined." It features castles, mountains, beaches, forests, capital cities, and fantasy movie landscapes. It was originally used in a collage art activity (printed out; using paper, glue, and art materials); and as a discussion prompt in an informal learning activity with a group of teens with cognitive disabilities during a summer camp program. Students were asked about famous places they have visited or would want to visit, as well as favorite vacation or travel spots. Other suggested uses beyond collage and discussion prompts would be a writing exercise, "If you could travel anywhere, where would you go, and who would you travel with, etc...?" Use the visible thinking routine "See|Think|Wonder" as a starting point for the writing prompt, and the images for inspiration.

Tags: Decision Making, Disabilities, Self-Determination, Self-Efficacy, Student Empowerment, All Access Digital Arts Program

Tracie Spinale

Access Series: Photo Quest in a Sculpture Garden

Get out on a sunny day and enjoy an art sculpture garden with friends...Wander with a purpose. In this teen group quest, teams use close-up photo prompts to find artworks in a sculpture garden, and then use tablet devices to take team photos with the sculptures. This activity was originally used in the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. with the All Access Digital Arts Program as a photo scavenger hunt. Example PDFs of photo details are provided. To turn the photo hunt into a more formal learning experience, the answer section shows the entire sculpture with information and discussion prompts to elicit questions about teen identity and self-expression.

Tags: decision-making, self-determination, student empowerment, disability, All Access Digital Arts Program

Tracie Spinale

Access Series: Great Face! Portraits and Photo Composition

Taking a great portrait is more than just taking a quick snap of a face. It requires thoughtful contemplation and a variety of choices by the photographer. This is a collection of photographs that illustrate various principles of portrait photography: angles (eye-level, high angle, low angle, and bird's eye), light and shadow, framing, and shot length (long-shot, medium-shot, close-up, & extreme close-up); As well as mood--capturing a feeling or emotion in a photograph; scale--how big or small subjects look; and sense of place--capturing the feeling of a place. Click into each photo and on the "paper clip" annotation icon to read more information and complete challenges.

Tags: portrait photography, decision-making, self-determination, student empowerment, disability, All Access Digital Arts Program

Tracie Spinale

ACCESS SERIES | Nile, Nile Crocodile

IMPORTANT: Click on the "i" for information icon and the paperclip icons as you move through the collection.

Exploring: Ancient Egypt, the Nile River, and glass museum objects, papercraft, and sand art

Rationale for Instruction:

  • Through the introduction, museum visit, and activities, students connect with an ancient and diverse culture in ways both conceptual and concrete. The ancient Egyptians shaped our modern civilization in fundamental ways and left legacies that are still present today. 


  • Explain features of the daily life of an Ancient Egyptian living on the Nile River, including boat transportation, dress, and animal life. 
  • Explore the ancient origins of glass making in Egypt.
  • Examine how glass making relates to object making, animal representation, and the desert environment of Egypt
  • Plan, create, and share digital and physical works of art that represent ancient (sand art) and modern art forms (digital photography with filters) as well as representational art (papercraft) landscape.

EDUCATORS | For the LESSON PLAN of the original "Nile, Nile Crocodile" << CLICK HERE >>


  • Maps - Look at the maps in the Smithsonian collection; Where do you think you'll journey to in this collection?
  • "This is Sand" App - an tablet app that changes the pixels on the screen into digital sand.
  • Video about The Nile (for learners who prefer a concrete example)
  • Thought journey down the Nile River; Ask questions about observations along the way. If you are able to transform the furniture to reflect a boat, do so. 
  • Glass making video as well as a primary source text from 1904 (for learners who prefer a concrete example); Help make the connection between the desert sand environment and glass making. 


  • Go to the gallery; read the panels and explore the objects. The gallery has been re-created in the Learning Lab collection
  • Explore the glass vessels-->What do you notice?
  • Observe the glass animals-->Take turns reading the informational texts; What do the animals represent?


ACTIVITY STATIONS (rotate between activity stations)

  • SAND ART - Create your own ancient Egyptian glass vessel through a sand art design similar to the decorated glass in the museum.
  • "ANCIENT" PHOTOS - Use digital tablets to take photos in a museum gallery and use the built-in filters to create 'ancient-looking' photos like the ones that document historic museum excavations. 
  • PAPERCRAFT LANDSCAPE - Create a three-dimensional landscape of ancient Egypt based on the animals and structures observed in the museum gallery and in the introductory materials. Templates and examples are included. Document your results using photography.

Tags: decision-making, self-determination, access, disability, accessibility, neurodiversity, special education, SPED, out of school learning, informal learning, cognitive, social skills, engagement, passion, creativity, empowerment, All Access Digital Arts Program

Tracie Spinale

ACCESS SERIES | Galaxy Quest

IMPORTANT: Click on the "i" for information icon and the paperclip icons as you move through the collection.

Have you ever wondered what's going on out there in the universe? Would you like to discover exciting things about planets, stars, and galaxies? Today, we will go on a GALAXY QUEST to EXPLORE THE UNIVERSE!

RATIONALE | Digital technology has transformed how we explore the Universe. We now have the ability to peer into space right from our homes and laptop computers. Telescopes, photography, and spectroscopy remain the basic tools that scientists—astronomers and cosmologists—use to explore the universe, but digital light detectors and powerful computer processors have enhanced these tools. Observatories in space—like the Hubble Space Telescope—have shown us further into space then we have ever seen before.

EDUCATORS | For the LESSON PLAN of the original "Galaxy Quest" << CLICK HERE >>

Lesson Objectives:
1. Process and save at least one digital image of a galaxy or space image (with caption)
2. Create a three-dimensional astronomy sculpture (galaxy or other space body, space alien, plant, animal)
3. Create a digital astronomy sculpture (galaxy or other space body, space alien, plant, animal)
4. Visit the Explore the Universe exhibition at NASM and identify Hubble parts (mirror, lens, spectroscope)

Learning Objectives:
1.     What a galaxy is
2.     What a space telescope is
3.     Learn how to open an image on the computer and process it
4.     Socialize well in the museum setting

Tags: decision-making, self-determination, access, disability, accessibility, neurodiversity, special education, SPED, out of school learning, informal learning, cognitive, social skills, engagement, passion, creativity, empowerment, All Access Digital Arts Program 

Tracie Spinale

ACCESS SERIES | Through the Lens of Curiosity

IMPORTANT: Click on the "i" for information icon and the paperclip icons as you move through the collection.

All Access Club Explores the Microscopic World. If you cannot see something, does that mean that it is not there? Nope! Just lurking under the surface of common, everyday objects is an entire world that we normally cannot see. People just like you can use microscopes to discover things that need magnification in order to view.  The collection is part of an activity series that explores this mysterious microscopic world.

EDUCATORS | For the LESSON PLAN of the original "Through the Lens of Curiosity"  << CLICK HERE >>

In this collection you will:

  • Find out about the world through the use of microscopes and magnifiers
  • Take on the role of detective as you embark on a quest to solve 5 mysteries -- by making observations about up-close objects and reading clues, can you figure out what the whole object is?
  • In the game A Part of the Whole, use your power of observation to consider the structures and functions of up-close objects to guess what they might be. Again, you will look at part of an object--photographed up-close--to guess at the whole.

If it is possible to set-up a hand's-on experience with microscopes along with the online activities -- the tactile portion will enhance the online activity. Teens can also view a video about scanning electron microscopes by a young scientist in the 'extension section'.

Keywords: decision-making, self-determination, access, disability, accessibility, neurodiversity, special education, SPED, out of school learning, informal learning, cognitive, social skills, engagement, passion, creativity, empowerment, All Access Digital Arts Program 

Tracie Spinale

SSYAC Meeting 4 - Challenging Perceptions of Zoos (Archived: Fall 2017 - Spring 2018)

The fourth meeting of the SSYAC was held in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. We meet both human staff and animal members of the zoo (Clementine the Striped Skunk), and discussed the Smithsonian’s Earth Optimism initiative with Dr. Skorton and the zoo’s Director, Dr. Steven Monfort. We'll also discuss the responses to the previous assignment about the “Second Opinion” website.

During the "Challenging Perceptions of Zoos" activity, we discussed how the National Zoo carries out its mission: “We Save Species.” Through the lens of the Western Lowland gorilla, Cuban crocodile, Sloth bear, and California sea lion, and the Asian elephant—we considered how these endangered animals could be saved. SSYAC members participated in a role-playing scenario with members of the zoo education staff.  Post-meeting, members had the opportunity to walk the zoo grounds. It was wild!

Special thanks to Friends of the National Zoo colleagues Laura Klopfer and Erika Novak for creating and implementing the education activities.

KEYWORDS: student engagement, teen council, conservation biology, Earth Optimism

Tracie Spinale

SSYAC Meeting 3 - Personal Narratives - Stories of Immigration - Why People Move (Archived: Fall 2017 - Spring 2018)

The third meeting of the SSYAC was held in collaboration with the Smithsonian Latino Center. During our pre-meeting activity, we proto-typed the “Latino Headliners and Difficult Conversations” program. We used the creation of comics to explore multiple perspectives of sensitive historical and contemporary issues that pertain to the US Latino experience. Staff from the Smithsonian Latino Center and Smithsonian Exhibits guided us as we explored the multiplicity of immigration realities, and focused on the personal stories that explain why people move

We also discussed the responses to the previous assignment about learning and education experiences in museums with staff from the Smithsonian's Associate Provost for Education and Access office.

KEYWORDS: immigration, migration, forced migration, Latino, maker, making, comic, teen council, student engagement

Tracie Spinale

SSYAC Meeting 2 - Museums, Activism, and Social Justice (Archived: Fall 2017 - Spring 2018)

When people ask you where you are from, what do you say? Why do you respond that way? Can you remember the first time you witnessed or experienced an injustice? Can we ask a nation to sacrifice development opportunities in the service of protecting the environment / treaty rights / tribal rights? What is your role in carrying on the maintenance of this relationship between tribes and the U.S.? How can museums respond to issues of social justice in the community? What should the Smithsonian do to share this story? How can we involve teens like you in sharing this story?

The second meeting of the SSYAC was held at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). During our pre-meeting activity, we explored the exhibition Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations. This Smithsonian Learning Lab collection contains the in-gallery activity which looks at the important relationship between the U.S. and tribal Nations by examining the 1851 Horse Creek Treaty and the present-day activism directly related to it at Standing Rock. The collection also contains background information resources about NMAI, as well as the Nation to Nation exhibit.

During our meeting dialogue, we discussed the outcomes of the "One Smithsonian" assignment.

Special thanks to NMAI colleagues Carolyn Rapkievian, Mandy Foster, and Ami Temarantz for creating and implementing the in-gallery activity in the Nation to Nation exhibition at NMAI.

KEYWORDS: student engagement, teen council, American history, DAPL, exhibition tour, inquiry-based learning, questions, Native American

Tracie Spinale

SSYAC Meeting 1: Knowledge Begins in Wonder (Archived: Fall 2017 - Spring 2018)

Knowledge Begins in Wonder... WHAT WOULD MAKE MUSEUMS BETTER?

  • interaction with objects - physical and virtual & accessible
  • make them applicable to teens

Teens played The Mystery of the Megatherium Club: Mustaches & Mayhem! scavenger hunt in the Castle, and had a dialogue with Smithsonian Secretary David J. Skorton and Dr. Robin Davisson.

KEYWORDS: Smithsonian history, mystery, LARP, live action role-play, teen, student engagement, teen council

Tracie Spinale

ORIENTATION | Smithsonian Secretary's Youth Advisory Council (SSYAC) Fall 2018 - Spring 2019

<<This information is relevant to the Fall 2018 - Spring 2019 SSYAC Program.>>

SUPER IMPORTANT: When you click into the tiles, be sure to notice in the upper left hand corner if there is a "paper clip" icon. Clicking on the paperclip icon will lead to more information on a side panel. Some of the tiles will be website links or video links. Tiles marked as PDF or DOC are downloadable information. Within a tile, arrows at the bottom of the screen will navigate you between tiles.

Orientation for new members of the Smithsonian Secretary's Youth Advisory Council (SSYAC) for Fall 2018 - Spring 2019

  • About the Smithsonian Secretary's Youth Advisory Council (SSYAC) -- including forms and other important information
  • About Secretary David J. Skorton
  • About Smithsonian's past and present
  • About Smithsonian Affiliate participants
  • About Smithsonian operations, and policy information helpful to SSYAC members. 
  • Meeting Resources (relevant info related to upcoming meetings will be added closer to meeting dates). 

KEYWORDS: teen council, student engagement

Tracie Spinale

The Power of Cats in Egypt in 30 BC Copy

Voice Over about Egyptian Cats and Gods  #CIEDigitalStoryTelling for Ellis by Katheerin Dimieri 4th prd 


Jonathan's Collection

Over the course of the Scholar Program, the underlying theme that has resonated with me is design's interaction with people. I like to think of design as problem solving -- and for the majority of my time with the scholar program, I have learned to focus on developing projects to fit a group of people or other subjects.

Cooper Hewitt Design Scholars


Put the ARTS in STEM - From Egypt to South Africa, take a brief tour of the African Cosmos  and have your students discover the intersection of Art and Astronomy in the southern hemisphere.   Explore constellations only seen on the African continent.  See why the Goliath beetle became a symbol of rebirth for the Egyptian scarab.  Learn about celestial navigation by people and animals. 

Create Your Own Constellation!  Request Activity sheets for your classroom.

Submit your class constellations to our Student Gallery and be a part of your own school's online exhibition!

Deborah Stokes

Investigating: Civil War Portraits

In this student activity, students will investigate nine portraits of people involved in the Civil War, both from the Union and the Confederacy. Through these portraits, students will gain an understanding of: experiences of people on both sides of the war; why these people are seen as historically significant; and how portraiture can communicate how a person wanted to be seen, or how others wanted them to be seen. Included with each portrait is a video that explains the historical significance of the person depicted.

Big Ideas: 

  • Why are these people, and the developments they shaped, seen as historically significant? 
  • How does portraiture communicate how a person wanted to be seen, or how others wanted them to be seen?

Ross Bosse
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