Sophisticated language and technical, mildly uncomfortable content (like info about the sex appeal of orchids) means that the content will fit high school students best. If you find a topic of interest for late-elementary or middle school, try whole-group presentation via projector in order to increase teacher guidance and support.

High school biology teachers can compare the orchid and its partner bee side by side while studying form and function, co-evolution, or pollination. Definitely include the related video. Incorporate the Gunboat Philadelphia or the Wright Flyer into American history or even literature classes to deepen students’ connections to the time period, lifestyles, and experiences. Advanced art courses may use the site to explore lighting, color, and modeling. Across content areas, use the videos to introduce 3D imagery technology: Laser scanners, CT scans, and photogrammetry all appear in action with thoughtful commentary.

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Smithsonian X3D provides users with interactive 3D images of museum artifacts. Beneath the home page’s impressive rotating banner are menu tabs for the 3D models (about 30), tours (for 10+ of the artifacts), and a video gallery. The Educators tab has a general welcome and intro to using the site, including tips for using the site with access to a 3D printer. From the home page, look for the “Getting Started” image (or link at the bottom) for a clear set of how-to’s.

The X3D artifacts are as diverse as mammoth bones and a Wright Flyer. The online collection also includes 3D images of archaeological sites and -- stunningly -- a supernova. Users can take 360-degree spins around the interactive objects, and many can be seen along cross sections. Tool let users manipulate lighting, color, and other visual elements to help them explore in greater detail. All images include (rather sophisticated) supporting text, and the tours walk through pinned locations within an artifact, focusing on interesting details.

Seeing these objects online isn't the same as seeing them at the museum -- and it might be even better. Kids can view objects from every possible perspective (like the back, bottom, or side). They can zoom in to see the structures of an orchid, zoom out, and even view along transects. Should you have access to a 3D printer, you can literally print your own Amelia Earhart suit or dolphin jaw. It's impossible to overstate how cool this is.

Kids can work through the prepared tours, reading thoughtfully developed content, or explore an object on their own. Short, captivating videos focus on the technology and techniques behind creating the 3D images and feature narration from diverse professionals who thoughtfully connect their work to creating a better world. While all of this is terrific, there's not actually that much for kids to do on the site. Adding some pop-up quiz questions, links to background or extensions, or tutorials on underlying science, social studies, or art concepts would all help.  Additionally, giving teachers a little more guidance on how to integrate the content into their lessons would help, too. As it is, though, this site's rich potential for exploration could be a powerful asset in a teacher's bag of tricks.

Overall Rating


Smithsonian’s true to its “Seriously Amazing” tag. Ancient artifacts, fascinating imagery, and intriguing content will draw kids in. Alas, a limited collection and minimal amount to “do” may curb enthusiasm.


Kids zoom and manipulate objects, expanding perspectives and details. Interactive tools (measuring) and rich captions provide meaning, though more content (basics, definitions, extensions) could expand learning.


User-friendly icons, labels, and a clear Getting Started page make even the spatially clumsy feel confident. Video captions and audio options for written text would improve accessibility.

Common Sense reviewer
Christie Thomas Classroom teacher