Growing Your Audience: Reaching Kids Online with Digital Museum Educational Resources


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Museums’ traditional education outreach philosophies center on direct contact with teachers: one teacher will impact many students. The success of this model, however, relies heavily on the teachers' discovery of your content and their ability to manipulate it into their district or state-controlled curricula. As technology lowers the barriers to direct outreach, the opportunity exists for museums to transform their formal educational resources into informal digital educational experiences for kids directly, in the school or at home.

Smithsonian in Your Classroom (SIYC), reaches more than 80,000 schools twice a year. The session presents a case study illustrating a kid-centric reinvention of the SIYC publication. The process of creating both print and interactive game/simulation will be discussed. Participants will see that the challenge is not one of digitization of the existing lesson plans, but the transformation of the educational content from a teacher-led classroom group activity to a more personalized self-directed online.

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  • Role of SCEMS – increase the Smithsonian’s role and impact as an educational institution and to support the excellent work of the more than 30 educational teams that work at SI

    I am going to talk about how to take the content and materials you may already be creating for educators and to complement these offerings with content created just for kids. So, we are going to see how my office does that.
  • Keep this in mind. We are going to come back to it towards the end. Teachers have a big role in helping young people build knowledge, and museums are definitely in the business of creating wonder.

    Paraphrase: Aristotle “Wisdom begins in Wonder”
  • POINT: Teacher lesson plans have been produced for decades and are an important way that museums connect with an important audience.
  • Current issue of Smithsonian in Your Classroom
  • First Issue from March 1976. Formerly called Art to Zoo.

    “This is the first issue of ARTZOO, bringing news from the
    Smithsonian Institution to teachers of grades three through six. (this is a little broader now)
    The purpose is to help you use museums, parks, libraries, zoos, and
    many other resources within your community to open up new learning
    opportunities for your students.

    Our reason for launching a new publication dedicated to promoting
    the use of community resources among students and teachers nationally
    stems from a fundamental belief, shared by all of us here at
    the Smithsonian, in the power of objects.” -so from the beginning it was about the collection and how the collection can inspire learning”
  • March 1997 – 21 year later – Caribbean coral reefs in the Netscape browser
  • Almost 1.6 Billion internet users now
    Source: World Bank, World Development Indicators - Last updated October 22, 2010
  • The current issue - 13 years later
  • Discuss how each issue is a partnership between our office and other “units” of the Smithsonian.

    “Established on 1 March 1890 by Secretary Samuel P. Langley (3rd secretary)(2nd thing to remember), the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) was one of the earliest to practice the "new astronomy," or astrophysics. So, if you have been to Washington and know the Caste… Originally housed in a shed behind the Smithsonian Institution Building, the Observatory initially focused its research on the study of solar radiation and the solar constant—the amount of energy from the sun that strikes the outer edge of the earth's atmosphere. Langley was Director of the Observatory until his death in 1906.
    In 1955, the Smithsonian and Harvard University joined in an agreement to conduct astrophysical research, and the scientific headquarters of SAO was moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts.”
    - From
  • Summary of this issue – science and math

    Each issue contains background information (bring up to speed, provide relevant content, and prove context for her students) and lessons/activities

    Part 1 – assessment of the gaps in student understandings about the universe
    Part 2 – modeling activity on distances (the 2” universe)

    TEAM: Producer-me, inhouse writer, inhouse editor (3 work together on concept development), and contract design
  • Another goal is to engage students with the people at the Smithsonian (the 6000 workers and 6000 volunteers that I like to call the “other” collection as most spend their careers at the Institution). This is Lisa who is an astrophysicist, a planet hunter, and my age.
  • These are cardstock tear out sheets that the teacher would use with her students in the activities in the classroom.
  • So once this is produced and printed, it is mailed to 80,000 elementary and middle schools (more or less all private and public in the US). And, since 1997 it posted as a download online.
  • This is…while many of the museums/units have excellent educational content on their own sites, this is the one place where this is consolidated, aligned to standards, etc.

    This is how SIYC is presented online (fairly traditional web portal for educators, houses about 1800 resources from all SI, launched in 2003). PDF downloads including online only content, short summaries, links to related content, including, when possible video materials.

    These are links to online conference sessions with Lisa, the planet hunter (“Are there other worlds out there?”) and Phil Sadler (Astronomer and educator) (“How do we grasp the vastness of the universe?”)

    PDF has been downloaded 35,000 times since March of this year

    POINT: Keep on trucking. Educators still want this material. Museums should still be producing this content with their collections and their research. We are in the process of figuring out better formats for this content, but educators will always be a primary audience for museums.
  • POINT: Using existing teacher lesson plans, content for kids online activities, games, interactives, simulations can be relatively easily and inexpensively developed.
  • Sizing up the universe is a game/simulation-based version of the 2” activity from the print issue (2” universe). Uses the same graphics and the process of the activity is the same, but it provides some basic background information so that kids can access the content independently.
  • Goals:
    -engage with kids directly online, whether guided there by their teacher, parent, or on their own (6 million teachers in the U.S. alone, there are more than 50 million primary and secondary students.)
    Allow choice in the learning process (kids choose scale)
    Make the universe scale personal (through address selection)
  • Series of story boards- Work with the same designers who do print issue
  • POINT: Grow your audience – played about 7,000 times since June
  • Time for some honesty.
    Sizing Up the Universe was the second siyc-based Idealab we did
  • Richard March Hoe Printing Press – public domain image:'s_six-cylinder_press.png

    In 1843, Richard invented a lithographic rotary printing press that placed the type on a revolving cylinder, a design much faster than the old flatbed printing press. In its early days, it was variously called the "Hoe lightning press," and "Hoe's Cylindrical-Bed Press," and was later developed into the "Hoe web perfecting press.”


    This is about how when the medium for our work changes, we too must change. A lot of what keeps up from developing online interactives for kids can be understood by looking at this image.

    So that we can call a challenge
  • Technology. Not about flash vs. silverlight. Is developing content for the computer-based web the right move? Hoping this is something we can chat more about during Q&A time.

    4 billion cell phone subscribers worldwide today, compared to 1.6 billion internet users

    In the U.S., 76 percent of students ages 12 to 18 have their own cell phone.

    “But advocating for cell phone use in education is about more than cost, sustainability or parity; it’s about accessing points of entry. When it comes to technology integration, you need to meet students (and teachers) where they are. When you begin with a tool they already know and love, you’re less likely to be met with the kind of resistance you might otherwise get to institutional hardware or software. “

    I do think that museums can play a role in advocating for cell phone use in school, and by developing trustworthy content for mobile devices…

    So, that’s an opportunity, and now, well, the mistake…
  • User testing. We recruited teacher user testers for this interactive through Facebook and Twitter. This told us some information on how teachers might use it in the classroom/school, but we did not recruit middle school players to help us develop and test the idealab. Mistake.
  • “Samuel P. Langley was the third Secretary, from 1887 to 1906. An astrophysicist from the Allegheny Observatory, he devoted many years to developing the first flight machine. He was crushed when the Wright Brothers succeeded before him. His greatest scientific achievement was establishing a standard time zone system across the United States to facilitate train travel. Langley created the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and built the Children’s’ Room, an exhibit designed to interest young visitors in museum collections. Langley also established the Smithsonian's National Gallery of Art, now known as the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and accepted the gift of the Freer Gallery of Art from industrialist and art collector Charles Lang Freer.”
    - From

  • “The Smithsonian was one of the first museums in the country,” certainly not the only, “to develop a special children's place during the early part of the 20th century. Convinced that museums could provide a fertile environment conducive to children as well as adults, then Smithsonian secretary Samuel Pierpont Langley (1834-1906) converted a room on the first floor of the Smithsonian Institution Building's south tower into a gallery of natural history exhibits aimed specifically at children. Langley felt that if children were to benefit from the educational possibilities that existed in museums, a different approach to exhibit design would be necessary. Langley identified himself with children in trying to make suitable choices for the room. Special display cases were designed so that the exhibits were all within a child's view. Latin labels, commonly found in all natural history museum displays of the day, were abolished and replaced with poetic inscriptions, because, as Langley explained taking the viewpoint of a child:

    We are not very much interested in the Latin names, and however much they may mean to grown-up people, we do not want to have our entertainment spoiled by its being made a lesson.” – Langley understood that it can and should be FUN.
    - From
  • “Langley's guiding principle thus became his oft-repeated comment, very loosely paraphrased from Aristotle, "knowledge begins in wonder." This phrase eventually became the theme of the room and was painted on the transom above the south entrance.”
    - From
  • So we are at a time again where the Smithsonian is recognizing that we can do special things for young people. Just like Langley creating a special physical space for them, we have the opportunity (and I would argue for using the word responsibility) to create just a space online
  • Secretary Clough, just returned from Antarctica and was showing toddlers from the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center how penguins move across the ice. Just like Langley identifying with young people is so crucial.
  • This is the only public domain image of Big Bird, from the National Archives. Pat nixon

    “Big Bird and the other “Sesame Street” characters transformed learning for America’s children, starting in 1969, as they demonstrated how effective television (so, technology) could be in teaching preschoolers basic skills. The creation of “Sesame Street” is Claudine Brown’s favorite example of a “pivotal moment in history when technology and educational opportunities came together to make something amazing happen.” Brown is the Smithsonian’s new director of education, and she faces huge challenges: only 70 percent of U.S. students earn a high-school diploma, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education. Approximately 50 percent of African-American, Latino and Native American youths drop out of school prior to graduation. Internationally, U.S. students rank 25th in math and 21st in science.”
    - From

    1969, public television used technology to bypass parents and teachers and go directly to young people to teach, to share resources, and to create wonder about the world. We have the same opportunities now with our own educational content.

    I think that we are in a similar time now, and I would hope that we are all in this together and that we will create special opportunities for children. But, I am really just a beginner and hope that you would share with me your advice and that we have some time to talk more about this and other exciting opportunities. Thank you.
  • Growing Your Audience: Reaching Kids Online with Digital Museum Educational Resources

    1. 1. Growing Your Audience: Reaching Kids Online with Museum Educational Resources Darren Milligan Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies MCN2010 October 29, 2010
    2. 2. Knowledge Begins in Wonder
    3. 3. Part 1 – Smithsonian in Your Classroom Magazine
    4. 4. “WHAT IS THE INTERNET? Today's Internet, in a physical sense, is a collection of sixty thousand linked computer networks that connect more than thirty million people. This system provides a platform for people worldwide to share information. When you connect to the Internet, you become part of a diverse electronic community rich in educational resources.”
    5. 5. Part 2 – Smithsonian IdeaLab
    6. 6. Let’s Check It Out!
    7. 7. Part 3 – Opportunities, Challenges, Mistakes (your choice)
    8. 8. Image by Flickr user eurleif, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License
    9. 9. Image by Flickr user Extra Ketchup, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License
    10. 10. Knowledge Begins in Wonder
    11. 11. Portrait of Samuel Pierpont Langley Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 95, Box 15, Folder 8, 2002-12174.jpg
    12. 12. Children's Room in the South Tower of the Smithsonian Institution. Smithsonian Institution Archives Record Unit 95 Box 41 Folder 8
    13. 13. “We have ambitious plans to use new technologies to reach new audiences. … We have much to offer students and teachers in art, science, history, education, and culture. We want to give learners of all ages access to America’s treasures and our creative experts who bring them to life” –G. Wayne Clough
    14. 14. Photograph by Eric Long, Smithsonian Institution
    15. 15. Richard Nixon Library, Nixon White House Photographs, compiled 01/20/1969 - 08/09/1974. National Archives and Records Administration, Local Identifier NLRN-WHPO-C5385- 12A The Creation of Sesame Street: “There are pivotal moments in history when technology, national challenges and educational opportunities come together and something amazing happens.” -Claudine Brown, Director of Education, Smithsonian Institution
    16. 16. Thank you. Darren Milligan @darrenmilligan @smithsonianedu