When a field trip is out of the question, journey to a virtual museum! Join Education World as we visit science, art, and history museums around the world.
A class field trip to a museum can spark intense student interest as well as nurture thinking skills. But practical concerns, such as money and time, limit the location and number of museums a class can visit.
An alternative to real-life field trips is online virtual visits that can be taken via computer. Clearly, nothing replaces the actual experience of a museum tour, yet experiencing a high-quality online museum yields its own rewards.
Here is a sampling of excellent online museums to visit with your class, divided by category. Suggested activities accompany the descriptions of the Web sites.
The Franklin Institute Science Museum
This Philadelphia-based museum has structured its online site in a way that is ideal for educational purposes. The presentation is straightforward; you won't have to spend much time finding what you want. The site offers a number of interesting exhibits, and there is almost definitely going to be some content that relates to your curriculum. At this time, the following are among the offerings:
Museum of Science and Industry
Variety is the spice of this Web site from a Chicago, Ill., museum. Online exhibits include AIDS: The War Within; Apollo 8 Command Module; the Big Dig Construction Site; the Coal Mine; Hatching Chicks; Giant Heart; and Animated Industrial Gears. A nice aspect of the virtual museum is the inclusion of exhibits that will appeal to students in grades 1 to 4 as well as exhibits more suitable for older students.
Activity: Invite students to explore the Coal Mine exhibit and then ask them to write a paragraph explaining whether they would like to work in a coal mine, and why or why not. A more complex activity for students in grade 5 or above involves visiting a local business or industry and photographing its operations. Students can then use the photographs as a basis of their own exhibit on the business or industry.
Optional Activity: Have students visit the The Chick Hatchery exhibit and write captions for the online photographs of a chick's birth.
NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUMS
American Museum of Natural History
The museum is one of the world's foremost scientific and educational institutions. It contains enormous collections of specimens and cultural artifacts. Museum collections, including more than 30 million items, are a "field guide" to the life forms and cultures on earth.
Activity: Have students explore the museum's Web site, (Fossil Halls might be of special interest) and then ask them to make a four-page illustrated brochure about the American Museum of Natural History.
The Worldwide Museum of Natural History
The Worldwide Museum of Natural History (WMNH) is an online museum of photo galleries that features excellent educational products for schools and homes. New galleries and updates are added every month. Categories of exhibits are Vertebrate Life Galleries; Invertebrate Life Galleries; Planetary Science and Astronomy Galleries; and Gem and Mineral Galleries.
Activity: Encourage students to visit the Dinosaurs Galleries in the Vertebrate Life Galleries. Then have them click the image of Dreamstar's Dinosaurs and draw their own imaginary dinosaurlike creature based on the photographs they see.
American Red Cross Virtual Museum
This online museum is produced by the American Red Cross History and Education Center (HEC). The class can explore one of six different eras (pre-1900; 1900-1919; 1920-1939; 1940-1959; 1960-1979; 1980-present) or take an Automated Guided Tour through the cultural history of the American Red Cross.
Activity: Click the Pre-1900 area of the museum's History Timeline; then click the other eras, in order. Have students make a timeline of important events, perhaps with illustrations, in the history of the Red Cross. A group of students might collaborate on one long timeline to be displayed in class.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The museum houses one of the largest, most varied, and most prestigious collections of art in the world. More than two million works of art -- several hundred thousand of which are displayed at any given time -- in its collections are drawn from more than 5,000 years of world culture. The site provides an overview of the collections from the museum's galleries. Be forewarned: There are occasional nudes on the site, and you might want to preview any areas before having students explore them if this might present a problem in your community.
Activity: Encourage students to explore the Mary Cassatt exhibit. Several of her paintings are on display in the Works of Art section by clicking on the title of the painting at the end of the text. (One shows a nude girl who looks maybe 4 or 5 years old; just a caution.) A brief biography is included, as is information about her painting style. After students explore the site, ask them to imagine they are journalists interviewing Mary Cassatt about her life and work. Have students write five interview questions they would ask her.
ADDITIONAL MUSEUM RESOURCES ON THE INTERNET
Article by Sharon Cromwell
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