Review by Amanda Finkelberg, Common Sense Education | Updated August 2012


Bring traditional art education to life with fresh, interactive multimedia

Subjects & skills
  • Arts
  • Social Studies

  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
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Pros: Innovative videos offer the ability to learn about art from experts.

Cons: Videos vary in depth and quality, and some text and image entries aren't that engaging.

Bottom Line: A worthy supplement to an art history or humanities class.

The Create & Teach section offers advice for educators on recording conversational videos and sample syllabi for semester-long art history and art appreciation courses. The site is designed for an intro college-level course but could be adapted for eighth- to 12th-grade classrooms.

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Smarthistory is an interactive digital textbook that offers students the opportunity to explore a virtual art "museum" with expert guides in the form of conversational videos about art. Kids worldwide have access to remote works with accompanying commentary, which discusses context, history, and other themes. The site syncs with Khan Academy to provide structure in the form of Energy Points and an online community for added learning incentives.

Kids explore an interactive timeline of art history to watch "conversational interpretation" video talks by art experts or to read essays. Students select an era from the timeline and then choose from thumbnail images of drawings, paintings, sculptures, and other key works from that time period. A sidebar on each page shows where and when the artwork was created and includes links to related content. Videos discuss themes such as history, context, and the value of art in society, and students earn Energy Points (which sync with a Kahn Academy login) as they watch. Also, a Themes section offers mini-lectures on art appreciation topics such as "Why look at art" and "The skill of describing."


Smarthistory takes art history and art appreciation off the written page and brings traditional art education to life. Kids can find a wealth of really quality info about specific artworks and their historical significance. The "conversational interpretation" model demonstrated in the videos offers a less rigid way of thinking about art, encouraging personal and critical thinking. The collaboration with Kahn Academy helps add structure for the self-guided student, and some sample syllabi give teachers a starting point for using the materials in a class setting. There's a Flickr group to which students may upload, but the curation of the group is minimal and it's a little confusing to navigate.

Site highlights:

  • "Why Look at Art?" video with commentary from several museum professionals helps provide a good starting point for art appreciation.
  • Cool interactive timeline lets kids navigate history visually.
  • When and Where sidebar shows from where on the map a work or idea hails.
Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Well-designed site is easy to navigate and explore. Videos are insightful but vary in content and quality, so some may be more engaging than others. Students with no previous subject exposure may require some help.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Immersive site goes deep into the study of art while teaching a valuable critical-thinking model. Articles and videos are presented in a timeline that promotes free exploration, but content may overwhelm kids without additional instruction.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Intro videos help kids understand the unique voice of the site's videos. YouTube embedded videos have subtitling capability but seem to be limited to English. Kids can earn Kahn Academy incentives, a feature not displayed prominently.

Teacher Reviews

(See all 4 reviews) (4 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Melissa S. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Hampton Middle School
Allison Park, United States
Ancient Rome with a modern twist!
The videos and pictures from ancient Roman art history were wonderfully informative and well done. My students got a great overview of the city with the video reconstructions of ancient buildings in the video on the main page. Several of them wanted to explore further, but we ran out of time!
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