Common Sense Review
Updated November 2014

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Virtual tour lets kids explore interactions of humans and our world
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Common Sense Rating 3
  • The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History website includes science and social studies resources.
  • Students can read articles about how humans are impacting the earth.
  • Kids can browse detailed pictures and descriptions of the NMNH Mineral Science Collection.
  • Check out up-to-date volcano activity from around the world.
  • Panoramic tours allow users to virtually move through the museum.
If you're visiting the museum, use this website first to get the most out of your trip.
Those not attending the museum may have to supplement the materials provided.
Bottom Line
A great gateway to explore evidence and artifacts about the natural world; be ready to build your own lesson plans if you don't plan to visit in real life.
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

Fascinating info and images will pique kids' interest on their virtual tour. Resources could be organized in a way that is more accessible and engaging to kids who aren't on site.

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

Photos and data provided by the Smithsonian are accurate and up-to-date. Kids examine artifacts and evidence and come to their own conclusions.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 3

The site uses Google Translate to display text in languages from Albanian to Zulu -- but this excludes text that's embedded in the on-screen images, which only show up in English. Great links connect users to other quality resources.

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How Can Teachers Use It?

Science and social studies teachers can use the website to find evidence for students to analyze. Some lesson plans have already been created and can be found by clicking on the Education menu. Scroll all the way down past the field trip planning to the Resources for the Classroom.  Then check out the Web-based student activities. Double-check the links before you use them; some, like the Nutrients for Humanity module, are broken, but with a little Web searching, you can find a new link that works.

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What's It Like?

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History hosts a website full of science and social studies resources that can complement or even replace a field trip to the museum in Washington, D.C.  Content focuses on the four major Natural History Museum themes; The Evolving Earth, The Diversity of Life, The Human Connection, and Our Connected Planet. The Smithsonian National Museum of National History website ties in great resources, including news feeds with EOL’s species of the day and links to other Smithsonian sites such as Ocean Portal.

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Is It Good For Learning?

Panoramic virtual tours let users "move" through the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History -- a helpful feature for students who don't have the opportunity to visit the museum in person. Unfortunately, as you move through the tour, many of the descriptions on the signs are too fuzzy to read.  There are a few spots in each room, identified by a camera, that allow viewers to zoom on a particular part of an exhibit; those standout sections will inspire and excite kids. If you dig into this site, you'll find excellent, detailed, authentic artifacts for social studies and science classrooms. Through the museum's Global Volcanism Program, the site hosts the Volcanoes of the World Database that catalogues all of the Holocene volcanoes and eruptions on the planet. 

Keep in mind that the site is intended to support kids who will be visiting the museum or who have already visited, so its resources may need context for kids who don't plan to visit in person. There are some entirely Web-based activities, like Decoding Mars, where kids use photographic evidence to look for patterns in Mars geology. But more often, teachers will have to create their own lessons to go along with the excellent pictures and artifacts. 

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See how teachers are using Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Lesson Plans