In its mission statement, The Smithsonian Learning Lab declares, “The Smithsonian Learning Lab is a major rethinking of how the digital resources from across the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, 9 major research centers, the National Zoo, and more, can be used together, for learning.” It further explains that “The Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access created the Smithsonian Learning Lab to inspire the discovery and creative use of its rich digital materials—more than a million images, recordings, and texts. It is easy to find something of interest because search results display pictures rather than lists. Whether you’ve found what you were looking for or just discovered something new, it’s easy to personalize it. Add your own notes and tags, incorporate discussion questions, and save and share. The Learning Lab makes it simple.” And it is definitely the case whether a teacher is planning to build a collection for a lesson, use an already existing one, or students complete various assignments, build collections, and research.
I have adopted one of the six Frederick Douglass collections created by a fellow teacher in the Lab as part of the culminating activities for my junior English classes. Students reviewed not only the life of Frederick Douglass, learned about one of his most famous speeches, “The Meaning of Fourth of July for the Negro,” but they also were able to examine primary and secondary sources. Through these sources, they were able to determine what Douglas’s goal was with this speech and how it is often perceived today. In addition, the collection invited students to enter some of the Smithsonian museums and view primary texts and objects in connection to slavery and the times that created it. Moreover, they were able to go on a virtual tour of Washington Dc to discover the location, design, and symbolism of the newest Smithsonian building, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened on Sept. 24 in Washington after a long journey. None of my students have ever been to the East Coast and likely will never travel to Washington DC, so the engagement and interest was beyond 100% in class even though the assignment was not getting graded. I told them to “discover, create, and share” in the spirit of the Smithsonian Learning Lab, which they did happily. By the end of the class, several students were researching for additional artifacts within the Smithsonian archives. They were curious to explore Native American history and learn more about the Hispanic heritage most carry. I have also alerted history teachers to keep track of the Staff Picks, Updates and “New Resources for National History Day 2018:Conflict and Compromise in History.”
While the reviewing of the collections as part of my internship duty has enabled me to begin to explore the depth of the museums online, it has also allowed me to discover a new tool for my English classes and share this tool with my colleagues at school. Although, as far as I can discern, the collections I have been reviewing are created for students in the U.S., the Learning Lab has an enormous potential to share this country’s history, science, and beautiful artifacts with the world. Fresh eyes, new interpretations, and revolutionary perspectives are the moving force of education and fuel progress in the world. Thus, the Smithsonian Learning Lab has been doing its part initiating and inspiring this forward movement, staying true to their statement: “By encouraging users to create and share personalized collections of Smithsonian assets and user-generated resources, the Learning Lab aspires to build a global community of learners who are passionate about adding to and bringing to light new knowledge, ideas, and insight.”
It has been a rewarding experience to view the various collection, learn from their creativity, compare assessments with fellow reviewers, and try to comprehend the enormity of this Digital Archive that provides access to rich digital materials that comprise of more than a million images. I will probably volunteer to review collection at the Lab in the near future.