Friday, March 15, 2013

6 Reasons to Incorporate “Smithsonian Quests” Into Your Classroom

By Ashley Naranjo, Education Technician for the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies

For some time now, the education community has discussed and explored how to get out of the 
standardized-testing rut and make learning enjoyable again. Online games and challenges, real-world work, and point systems have been a few of the ideas kicked around by educators and tech-enthusiasts alike. Earlier this school year, a New York Times article highlighted the benefits of using digital badges to enable students, including those writing their college-admission essays, to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

A new online program from the Smithsonian called Smithsonian Quests gives K-12 students the opportunity to earn digital badges just by learning more about topics that already interest them. Educators at the Smithsonian have considered all of the points on teachers’ instructional checklists while offering a fun learning experience for students. See if the program corresponds to your own checklist:

  1. Explore the world outside the classroom. Every quest is based on the work of Smithsonian researchers and works together with the Smithsonian Online Education Conference Series, which offers interactive sessions with those experts. A team of Smithsonian educator advisors assesses student work, offering learners feedback from sources outside of school.

  1. Do real-world work. Students act as scientists, historians, artists, and curators to create projects that can benefit their own communities.

  1. Make connections across the curriculum.  In keeping with the vast scope of the Smithsonian’s expertise, the quests span a variety of subjects, from American art to zoo animals, from the depths of the sea to outer space, from current issues to future solutions. It is up to the students to find connections between subjects that interest them.  

  1. Build 21st-century skills. The quests address ICT literacy and project-based learning. Each quest prompts students to think critically about a topic and to respond creatively: by drawing a picture, by writing a story or an essay, by assembling a collection of “digital artifacts,” or by accomplishing anything else that fires their imagination.

  1. Foster self-directed learning. Students and teachers have the option of completing a few quests or taking advantage of all the offerings. There are no time limits to complete the quests, and because it is an online program, students can do the work in school, at home, or just about anywhere.

  1. Know the environment is kid-safe. The Quests platform requires parental approval for students under 13, and there are several safeguards in place for all participants. Privacy policies are explained in detail during the registration process.

The Quests program and the Conference Series present a unique opportunity to nurture students’ curiosity about the world and enable them to explore their interests alongside Smithsonian experts. Sixteen badges are currently offered, and new badges will be added throughout the year.

To learn more about registering, visit or check out the video below.

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