Website review by Polly Conway, Common Sense Education | Updated November 2013

Smithsonian's History Explorer

Lessons, activities, artifacts, artfully presented by the Smithsonian

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Editorial review by Common Sense Education
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Subjects & Skills
Social Studies, Critical Thinking

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Pros: Organization and searching functions are unparalleled, making it easy to find the perfect content.

Cons: It would be helpful to be able to save favorite lessons.

Bottom Line: A fantastic resource for kids and teachers alike, it has everything you need to fall in love with history.

This site is jam-packed with lessons that are ready for you to teach. Everything is standards-based and labeled as such, which gives you more time to pick the most appropriate lessons for your students. Students can also explore the site on their own; it's an ideal source for research report material or an in-class presentation.

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Smithsonian's History Explorer is a website developed by the National Museum of American History that offers online resources for teaching and learning American history. There's no log-in or way to save data, but you can browse all that the site has to offer and use the content you find in the classroom. The home page includes a Featured Artifact, Featured Resources, and a rotating board of highlighted material. Search-wise, you can filter content by grade, resource type, historical era, and cross-curricular connection. Resource types span from Artifacts (selected from the Museum's more than 3 million items) to Lessons/Activities to Interactives/Media, and the 10 eras include Beginnings to 1620 and 1968 to the Present. Once you've chosen your filters, you'll receive a list of resources, such as All Aboard the Train, a lesson plan about American train travel. The standards it meets appear below a brief description; hit Get Resource, and the content is yours.

It's outstanding. Aside from its great search function and excellent selection of lessons and activities, the site is beautifully designed and a pleasure to browse. Kids can learn about particular areas of history, or they can get a broad overview of an era. Some artifacts are classics, like Dorothea Lange's iconic Depression-era photograph Migrant Mother, but kids can also take a look at the history behind lesser-known aspects of American culture, like the Hamons Court neon sign, an example of roadside culture in Oklahoma.

Overall Rating


Design is clean, easy to navigate, and while each lesson or interactive experience has its own style, the Smithsonian quality's apparent throughout. Kids can find fun through lots of multimedia options.


The potential for deep, lasting learning is big here; lessons are thoughtfully planned and there's an incredible variety of content to explore. Kids will feel empowered as they explore things like a 3-D ship model on their own.


With the entire Smithsonian collection backing it, the site has countless extensions and ways to further learning. Teacher resources, outside links, and help are highlighted.

Common Sense reviewer
Polly Conway Classroom teacher

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Featured review by
Keith S. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Bedminster Township School
Bedminster, United States
Fantastic Primary Sources and Artifacts
I chose more than 15 minutes for set-up as this site is so full of resources! Whereas there are sections and resources designed for student interaction, teachers should preview the site to plan their students' use of its images, articles, and artifacts. In addition to a wonderful series of learning modules called OurStory which feature key moments and movements in American history, the site is now beta testing a 3D section (works best in Chrome) which allows students to view mammoth skeletons, Native Am ...
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