Common Sense Review
Updated August 2015

Smithsonian Education Students

Kid-friendly access to museum resources on wide range of topics
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Common Sense Rating 3
  • The site pulls together museum resources with students in mind.
  • The Educators section features browsable lesson plans.
  • There are a variety of games and interactives for students.
  • The site covers a variety of subject areas, including science.
  • Site content doesn't expand to fill your screen, which can make the text rather small.
  • Activities help kids make sense of artwork and artifacts found in the Smithsonian's museums.
Pros
The wide range of resources empowers kids to make sense of the world around them.
Cons
Content doesn't expand to fit your screen, sometimes resulting in small, hard-to-read text and a lot of white space.
Bottom Line
Even given some limitations, the site is filled with ways for kids to explore meaning in historical artifacts, scientific data, and art.
Emily Pohlonski
Common Sense Reviewer
Classroom teacher
Common Sense Rating 3
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 3

Appealing images accompany a broad range of stimulating topics.  However, slow-loading animations and small text make it less exciting for kids. 

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 3

Activities use images of actual material from the Smithsonian's own collections. However, some of the tasks don't require students to think with as much depth as they could.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 4

There are tons of extension activities for parents and teachers. Videos have closed-caption capabilities in many languages.

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How Can Teachers Use It?

The vast amount of content here -- primary-source images, lesson plans, online simulations, video clips, and research resources -- can be used in a variety of scenarios, from large, group projects to individual exploration activities. Use the activities -- ranging from building light bulbs to finding meaning in African masks -- to teach kids about scale, systems, and change over time in the broader context of art, science, or history.

For example, you could add another layer of understanding to a unit about George Washington by splitting kids into small groups and having them try the "George Washington Portrait" activity, which combines observation and sleuthing with learning historical facts.

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What's It Like?

Smithsonian Education Students poses important art-, science-, and history-related questions, then gives kids the tools to explore them. Think along the lines of: If the solar system is the size of a fried egg, how big is our galaxy? Activities like "Sizing Up the Universe" help kids make predictions about scale and check them using math. How has the role of government during a national crisis changed since World War II? The "Rationing During WWII" activity lets kids use primary-source materials to examine this and other big questions. Other examples of activities include "Walking on the Moon" (click through the online simulation to relive the first mission to the moon); "Digging for Answers" (answer on your own or test your research skills in a timed trivia game); and "Sizing Up a Squid" (draw yourself next to a giant squid to figure out its size).

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Is It Good For Learning?

In addition to authentic resources about an incredibly diverse base of topics -- from African-American pioneering aviators to botany, Viking culture to mystery inventions -- Smithsonian Education Students also provides lesson plan resources for teachers. The images, videos, games, and activities range from fun and interesting to slow and boring. Some of the vocabulary and ideas may be too advanced for younger school-aged kids without the help of a parent or teacher. Older kids, however, can definitely navigate this site on their own.

The educators menu allows teachers to select a grade, subject, and state to find resources connected to their state standards. However, some of the standards aren't a true match as indicated. For example, the Blue Crab Online resource is connected to a Michigan standard on differentiation when the curricular materials are really about life cycles, food webs, and population growth. Related to the site's design, the pages aren't adaptive to every screen size, making it a little hard to read some content on smaller screens. Despite these drawbacks, Smithsonian Education Students gives kids access to scientific and historical artifacts from the Smithsonian's excellent museums.

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