Smithsonian Quests works for quality individual activities or as fresh ideas for the entire class. There’s an average of three activities per badge, varying by level of involvement. Survey student interest in certain topics and group questers with similar pursuits. Have students evaluate the quests themselves -- were they good for learning? Challenge kids to create a "fourth quest" or new quests around an original topic using online and offline resources. Extend badge-earning with an additional reward layer -- i.e., "Earned 3 badges" or "Earned a science/history/humanities badge." Develop rubrics to evaluate student work before they submit it online or employ peer review.
Review the Conferences section for 50-minute topical lectures by Smithsonian experts; the descriptions call out any associated badges. The site claims activities are aligned with Common Core and national standards but doesn't provide specifics; browse the Badges by Topic area or try the Teacher PD section for more info.Continue reading Show less
Editor's Note: Smithsonian Quests is now part of the Smithsonian Learning Lab.
Smithsonian Quests is a site that allows kids to complete online "quests," various projects that require some Web research and a finished result that they turn in for rewards. The site entices kids to complete independent, investigative activities to earn digital badges -- a fun motivational strategy making its way online after successful use in a physical way for years (think Girl/Boy Scouts). Quest activities are centered on history, science, and the humanities; for example, Historic Biographer gives kids a chance to delve deep into the history of a public figure, whereas Treehugger lets them get outside to measure local trees before studying up on how they benefit the environment. All the projects use Smithsonian resources, including linked websites and recorded presentations, or guide kids to connect to personal experiences. As proof of completion, kids must submit their findings online -- i.e., written work, a presentation, a video, etc. The Smithsonian Education Advisory Committee -- a group of volunteer teachers, curators, and museum educators -- will review each submission and award badges. Badges have cool names like "Dirt Detective," "Culture Keeper," and "Astrophotographer," and once they're approved, kids can display badges on their profile page.
Social stuff includes forums and groups, avatars, friends lists, and community badges for participation. Educators can set up individual student accounts and earn badges, too, for student engagement or involvement in online teacher professional development.
- Culture Explorer - Students explore personal adornment as an expression of heritage.
- Invasions Investigator - Students examine the impact of non-native plants and animals on marine ecosystems.
- Oral Historian - Students learn the connection oral histories make between present and past while considering the role of water in people's lives.
Smithsonian Quests' interdisciplinary, themed exercises emphasize depth over breadth and help kids build real-world skills. For example, environmental quests send kids outside, while historical quests boost skills in documentation. Kids are often challenged to relate personal experiences to the subject of the quest; they may have to talk to other people to get answers, gaining social skills in the process. The format for product submissions is flexible, permitting video, audio, a photo, or written work as proof.
Freedom of choice and a "product as proof" requirement promotes empowerment and ownership in original work. It's not on the site, but a press release explains that kids will get individual feedback on each submitted project. The downside: The site is a little vague. Details aren't clear, and without rubrics, sample feedback, or estimated turnaround time, it's hard to determine its value. Kids will just have to submit and see. However, you can always intervene in the submission process and have kids turn work in directly first.
Key Standards Supported
Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.
Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.
Reading History/Social Studies
Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.
Reading Informational Text
Integrate information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue.
Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of using different mediums (e.g., print or digital text, video, multimedia) to present a particular topic or idea.
Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually (e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table).
Conduct short research projects to answer a question, drawing on several sources and refocusing the inquiry when appropriate.
Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1–3 above.)
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.
Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.
Key Standards Supported
Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity
Use evidence to construct an explanation for how the variations in characteristics among individuals of the same species may provide advantages in surviving, finding mates, and reproducing.
Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.
Make a claim about the merit of a solution to a problem caused when the environment changes and the types of plants and animals that live there may change.
Evaluate the evidence supporting claims that changes in environmental conditions may result in: (1) increases in the number of individuals of some species, (2) the emergence of new species over time, and (3) the extinction of other species.
Create or revise a simulation to test a solution to mitigate adverse impacts of human activity on biodiversity.
Construct an explanation based on evidence that describes how genetic variations of traits in a population increase some individuals’ probability of surviving and reproducing in a specific environment.
Use mathematical representations to support explanations of how natural selection may lead to increases and decreases of specific traits in populations over time.
Earth and Human Activity
Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth’s resources and environment.
Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems.
Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.
Earth’s Place in the Universe
Support an argument that differences in the apparent brightness of the sun compared to other stars is due to their relative distances from Earth.
Describe and graph the amounts and percentages of water and fresh water in various reservoirs to provide evidence about the distribution of water on Earth.
Develop a model to describe the cycling of water through Earth’s systems driven by energy from the sun and the force of gravity.
Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
Construct an argument that some animals form groups that help members survive.
Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.
Evaluate the claims, evidence, and reasoning that the complex interactions in ecosystems maintain relatively consistent numbers and types of organisms in stable conditions, but changing conditions may result in a new ecosystem.
Design, evaluate, and refine a solution for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity.
Evaluate the evidence for the role of group behavior on individual and species’ chances to survive and reproduce.
Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for the effects of resource availability on organisms and populations of organisms in an ecosystem.
Construct an explanation that predicts patterns of interactions among organisms across multiple ecosystems.
Develop a model to describe the cycling of matter and flow of energy among living and nonliving parts of an ecosystem.
Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.
Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services.
From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes
Develop models to describe that organisms have unique and diverse life cycles but all have in common birth, growth, reproduction, and death.
Use argument based on empirical evidence and scientific reasoning to support an explanation for how characteristic animal behaviors and specialized plant structures affect the probability of successful reproduction of animals and plants respectively.
Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits
Use evidence to support the explanation that traits can be influenced by the environment.