Smithsonian institution, Education Programs
SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION, EDUCATION PROGRAMS
The Smithsonian Institution, an independent trust instrumentality of the United States, is a center for research dedicated to public education, national service, and scholarship in the arts, science, and history. Its collections hold more than 140 million artifacts and specimens. The Smithsonian was established in 1846 with funds bequeathed to the United States by James Smithson, a British scientist. This bequest to establish in Washington, D.C., an institution for the increase and diffusion of knowledge is responsible for establishing the world's largest museum complex. The U.S. Congress provided that the institution be administered by a board of regents–consisting of the vice president of the United States, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, three congressmen, three senators, and six private citizens chosen by Congress–and a secretary.
The Smithsonian is composed of sixteen museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park, and research facilities in the United States and abroad. Nine Smithsonian museums are located on the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the Capitol. Five other museums and the zoo are elsewhere in Washington, D.C.; the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian Heye Center are in New York City. Smithsonian education programs in these facilities demonstrate how museums can be powerful learning environments. Smithsonian research and outreach units also provide significant educational programming. These units include the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts; the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama; the National Science Resource Center; the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies; and The Smithsonian Associates (TSA). More information on Smithsonian museums, research, and outreach units can be found at the institution's website.
The Smithsonian is committed to serving as the most extensive provider of authoritative experiences that connect the American people to their history and their cultural and scientific heritages. A major objective of the institution is to bring Smithsonian education resources to the nation through a comprehensive education program that focuses on the kindergarten through college student population, teachers at all levels, and lifelong learners. A wide variety of educational offerings take place every day and many evenings throughout the institution to meet this objective. These include formal programs for elementary and secondary students both in the galleries of Smithsonian museums and over the World Wide Web; internships and fellowships open to qualified undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate students; and programming for the general public, in the galleries during the day and in evening and weekend courses, lectures, and study tours. Smithsonian staff members teach courses at nearby institutions and around the country, conduct seminars and lectures, and act as supervisors and mentors for undergraduate and graduate students and visiting associates. Each year the breadth and scope of Smithsonian education programs has an impact on millions of students and learners of all ages.
Elementary and Secondary Education Programs
Each Smithsonian museum, research, and outreach unit has an education department with responsibility for planning and implementing programs for students. These programs are interactive and encourage students to use analytical and deductive reasoning skills as they experience exhibitions, demonstrations, and other activities. All museums offer previsit materials such as activity sheets, museum guides, and teachers' guides that provide hands-on lessons for use in the classroom and at home. The museums also offer curriculum packets developed by classroom educators working with museum curators and scientists, which provide multidisciplinary activities. Teaching materials include reproductions of objects, specimens, or artwork; lesson plans with examples of student work; resource lists; and reference information. The Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center introduces preschool-age children to the arts and sciences through objects and exhibits in Smithsonian museums. The center has developed a comprehensive, theoretical framework regarding museum-based education for the youngest audience of museum visitors and communicates these concepts in training seminars for teachers around the country.
More than 6.5 million school children visit the institution each year. Smithsonian education is not, however, limited by physical space or geographic location. The institution is working to dramatically enlarge its audiences and its degrees of engagement with the public throughout the country. Millions more students nationwide can access a wealth of on-line resources made available by all Smithsonian units and can attend the many programs and exhibitions that the Smithsonian's Office of National Programs sponsors in local museums and schools across the country. Smithsonian museums create comprehensive educational websites with activities for families, teachers, and students. Many of these sites offer interdisciplinary lesson plans that emphasize inquiry-based learning with primary sources and museum collections. Provided are photographs of objects, guidelines for working with them, and links to other online resources. The Smithsonian's central education website lists standards in science, U.S. history, world history, and visual arts, and it identifies specific collections and online resources from Smithsonian museums that can be used to help address those standards. Initiatives from the Office of National Programs include traveling exhibitions, Scholar in the School programs, teacher development programs, and affiliations with other museums throughout the United States.
Higher Education Programs
The Smithsonian Institution offers a variety of internship and fellowship programs for undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate students. An internship at the Smithsonian Institution is a prearranged, structured learning experience scheduled within a specific time frame. The experience must be relevant to the intern's academic and professional goals and to research and museum activities of the institution. An internship is performed under the direct supervision of Smithsonian staff. Internships are arranged by contacting the appropriate internship coordinator at a Smithsonian museum, office, or research institute, or through the Internship Central Referral Service offered by the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies. Stipends are available to qualified students for several of the institution's internship programs.
Pre-and postdoctoral fellowships at the Smithsonian Institution provide students and scholars with opportunities to pursue independent research projects in association with members of the Smithsonian professional research staff. The Office of Fellowships has the central management and administrative responsibility for the institution's programs of research grants, fellowships, and other scholarly appointments. One of its primary objectives is the facilitation of the Smithsonian's scholarly interactions with students and scholars at universities, museums, and other research institutions around the world. The office administers institution-wide research support programs, and encourages and assists other Smithsonian museums, research institutes, and research offices in the development of additional fellowships and visiting appointments. Applicants are evaluated on their academic standing, scholarly qualifications, experiences, the quality of the research project or study proposed, and its suitability to Smithsonian collections, facilities, and programs. Stipends and additional allowances are available for most appointments. Scholars and students with outside sources of funding are also encouraged to use the institution's resources and facilities. The Office of Fellowships can facilitate visiting appointments in such cases provided that the investigator obtains approval from the staff member with whom he or she would consult.
The Smithsonian works with teachers in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area and throughout the nation. Through special events, for-credit courses, and long-term partnerships, teachers discover innovative ways to meet their teaching objectives using museum resources. These programs support local and national standards and many are approved for in-service credit or recertification points in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. The institution also collaborates or partners with various educational, professional, and service organizations, such as the College Board, the International Literacy Network, the National Writers Project, and the U.S. Department of Education to establish models that demonstrate how the use of museum resources and research methodologies can strengthen teaching and instruction at the elementary, secondary, and college level. The Smithsonian is also a leader in providing professional development opportunities for museum professionals in the United States and abroad. The institution sponsors an annual series of training programs in collections care, museum management, and education topics in Washington, D.C., and in museums around the country.
Family and Continuing Education Programs
Lifelong learning takes many shapes at the Smithsonian. Visitors, whether individuals or with family and friends, can participate in educational programming on most weekends at every Smithsonian museum and, in the summer, at special evening events at the institution's international art museums. The Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage organizes the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall each summer, featuring demonstrations, storytelling, and narrative sessions for discussing cultural issues. The Smithsonian Associates (TSA) offers programming for lifelong learners that highlights and complements the work done across the Smithsonian. TSA's Resident Associate program offers more than 120 programs each month in the Washington D.C., area and also provides educational and cultural programs to audiences outside the Washington, D.C., area, through the Scholar in the School and Smithsonian Voices of Discovery programs, and the Study Tour program, which organizes more than 300 trips each year to locations around the world.
Smithsonian Institution. 2002. <www.si.edu.>.
Bruce C. Craig