A Virtual Tour of Washington's Smithsonian Institution

Article excerpt

In 1826, James Smithson, a British scientist, bequeathed his entire estate to the United States for the sole purpose of establishing an institution in Washington, D.C., dedicated to "the increase and diffusion of knowledge...." His only stipulation was that it use the Smithson family name.

Neither Smithson nor President James K. Polk, who signed the Act of Congress creating the Smithsonian Institution in 1846, could have imagined how the original gift of $500,000 would mushroom. Today, the Smithsonian is the world's largest museum complex, encompassing 16 museums, the National Zoo, a network of research libraries, publications, and a collection of content-rich Web sites that should be on every teacher's list of favorites. Here is a Web tour to help teachers find the education-specific assets of this incredible resource.

* Smithsonian Education (www.smithsonianeducation. org) Start here! This site, produced by the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies, is a content-rich portal featuring links to numerous online resources. From the home page, click on the Educators rink to bring up a list of pages on Art and Design, History and culture, Science and Technology, and Language Arts--each area features an assortment of topics for classroom use. For example, in History and Culture, there are 11 links to topics suitable for grades 3-8, including Stories of the Wright's Flight, Lewis and Clark, and What is Currency: lessons from Historic Africa.

* National Air & Space Museum (www. nasm.si.edu) The National Air and Space Museum is the world's most visited museum. Click on the Education Services link at the home page and then choose Online Activities to find science activities for classroom and home use. Exploring Planet Earth from Space features activities based on satellite imagery of Earth; Cyber Center: Exploring the Planets allows students to 'join' research teams planning explorations of Mars and other planets; How Things Fly offers a fun assortment of science-based activities to teach the physics of flight plus links to 35 other aviation sites; and much more.

* National Museum of American History (american history.si.edu) Elementary teachers and students will appreciate the interactive learning segments at the Our Story in History page. The concept is to explore history through objects. Click on History Activities under Try it at Home and access any of six activities, each linked to a book about that subject. For example, Life in a Sod House offers activities around the book Dakota Dugout by Ann Turner. There are downloadable PDF files that allow students to play historian by examining photographs of the settlers who settled on the prairie after Congress passed the Homestead Act. Other subjects are Slave Life and the Underground Railroad, Pueblo Pots, A Puerto Rican Carnival, Life in a WWII Japanese American Internment Camp, and Great Women of Our Past.

* National Zoological Park (nationalzoo. si.edu) Clicking on any of the 15 color photographs on the home page opens a content-rich page, some featuring live Webcasts of various zoo exhibits plus a range of other activities. For example, clicking on the tiger brings up Great Cats, which has a live TigerCam, plus links to pages such as Great Cats Exhibit, Meet the Zoo's Cats, and Cat Conservation and Science. The Cats for Kids page offers fact sheets about the big cats or the chance to send a big cat E-card. There are 14 other choices offering pages on giant pandas, reptiles and amphibians, invertebrates, and more.

* National Museum of Natural History (www.mnh.si.edu Biology, botany, social studies, and geography are all included in the online exhibit Lewis and Clark as Naturalists, which traces the work done by the two explorers. …