Summer checklist: New program turns educators' wish lists into reality


Editor's note: This 2012 blog post profiles an educational program no longer offered by the museum. Visit our Education and Impact page to learn about the museum's current programs for students and teachers.

To Do This Summer: 

On teachers' to-do lists this summer: Visit the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology and see letters from early scientists and inventors (a letter from Galileo and Einstein’s personality test would be fabulous…), learn how to bring my students!
The new program got great reviews from teachers, such as, "I want to use literally every single idea I have learned today!"
  • Meet John Brown, debate with  Tall 1 copyhim about his use of
    violence and his historical legacy
  • Compete on Who Wants to be a Historian Extraordinaire, win a prize, and learn more about trench warfare 
  • Visit the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology and see letters from early scientists and inventors (a letter from Galileo and Einstein’s personality test would be fabulous…), learn how to bring my students! 
  • Take a tour of a Smithsonian exhibition with a curator
  • Get shocked!(And learn how to integrate science and social studies with activities from the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation)
  • Meet fellow educators, share teaching ideas
  • Develop fresh ideas I can apply to my classroom

Such is the imaginary check list for a select group of educators from Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia who worked with us this summer in our new program at the museum, the Teach-it-Forward Institute. Funded by the A. James Clark Excellence in History Teaching Program (which also funds our Let’s Do History Tour, a nationwide professional development program), the program is designed to share with local K-12 educators the best of the museum’s resources and teaching strategies, support them in developing a new lesson with material from our collections or ideas from our programs, and then have this group share with each other their successes and challenges, with the end goal of creating a cadre of educators who can share these ideas and resources with their colleagues.


Meeting fellow educators and sharing creative teaching ideas
Meeting fellow educators and sharing creative teaching ideas 

In addition to the list above, participants met Mary Pickersgill, maker of the Star-Spangled Banner; playedtheater games and discussed ways to use them with students; participated in our interactive cotton gin cart program; discussed methods for integrating language arts and social studies with our OurStory program; and toured our electricity exhibition, Lighting a Revolution.

We were glad to hear that teachers were excited by what they learned…a few sample quotes are:

  • “I absolutely LOVED this Session! I cannot wait to learn more strategies in Session 2. I want to use literally every single idea I have learned today!!! I absolutely love all of the resources and all of the teacher feedback I am discussing in my small group!!!”
  • “As a teacher of AP U.S. history, we use primary sources a lot—this was always one of my weak links. Now I can’t wait for next year. Thank you for sponsoring this!”
  • “I am excited about flexing my teaching wings. Session 1 was phenomenal! As a reading teacher who happens to love history, I am on my way to integrating my two worlds.”

Since the programs, our teachers have been busy building new lessons based on what they did at the museum, including a lesson for a social justice class using our Join the Student Sit-Ins program to spur a discussion about modern activism in students, lessons for middle school history classes in which they debate the legacies of Andrew Jackson or early explorers, and many object-based biography projects for elementary students. We’re looking forward to seeing the final lesson plans in October, and videos of students participating in the lessons this winter. In January, our educators will return to discuss their experience leading these object-based lessons and will determine ways to “teach-it-forward,” including (we hope) a blog post or two about their activities!

Teachers nationwide can make use of these resources, too! Make your own checklist for the new school year with these lesson ideas:

  • Host your own debate with John Brown with these video segments of the program and sample discussion questions, or introduce your students to Mary Pickersgill, the Star-Spangled Banner, and the Battle of Baltimore with this video.
  • Have students make their own object portraits and share them with other students online with this activity.
  • Buy your own cotton bolls and show your students a video of our cotton gin cart to better understand its impact and influence.
  • Play Who Wants to be a Historian Extraordinaire with your students to build questioning skills and content knowledge.
  • See what is available online from the Dibner Library and other special collections at the Smithsonian in the Galaxy of Images, or inspire students participating in National History Day projects with this story of one middle school student from Ohio who spent some time researching in the library’s collection.

Visit Smithsonian’s History Explorer for more lessons and resources. If you would like to participate in one of our trainings, check out our teacher resource page for info on upcoming webinars or conferences, or contact us at!

Naomi Coquillon is an education specialist at the National Museum of American History.