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New Web Site Links Schools and Museums


On September 15, 2003, the Smithsonian Institution -- the world's largest museum organization -- will officially launch its newest Web site, Smithsonian According to Stephanie Norby, director of the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies, the site reflects the work of nearly 1,000 curators, researchers, and scientists, and offers the opportunity to showcase some of the 142 million objects from the Institution's collection. Recently, Education World spoke with Norby about the site and about the Smithsonian's efforts to foster partnerships between museums and schools. Included: Information about Smithsonian and the museum's annual Open House for Teachers.

Stephanie L. Norby, director of the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies, arrived at the Smithsonian Institution in 1998. Norby, who grew up in Los Angeles, worked in the Kansas City, Missouri, school district from 1986 until 1998. In her most recent position there, she served as director of curriculum, professional development, and assessment. She also worked in the museum community as a curator, and planned public programs, including permanent and traveling exhibits, tours and lecture series, for the Johnson County Museum System in Shawnee Mission, Kansas.

Norby received her bachelor of science degree from the University of California at Davis and a master's of history degree at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. She attended graduate school in education at the University of California Long Beach, and in museum studies at the University of Kansas.

Norby spoke to Education World about the Smithsonian's new education Web site, its annual Teachers' Night, and the Institution's ongoing efforts to foster partnerships between museums and schools.

Education World: On September 15, the Smithsonian will officially launch its newest Web site -- Smithsonian How many Web sites does the Smithsonian maintain?

Stephanie Norby: More than 500 different Web sites are produced and maintained by the Smithsonian's 16 museums, the National Zoo, and world-class research centers across the United States and around the world. Those heavily visited Web sites incorporate nearly 300,000 individual Web pages.

EW: How is Smithsonian different from other education-related Web sites?

SN: Smithsonian Education's authoritative content showcases national treasures from the Smithsonian's collection of 142 million objects representing the nation's artistic, historical, and scientific heritage. The Web site reflects the research and scholarship of nearly 1,000 curators, researchers, and scientists in the world's largest museum organization.

EW: How can a visitor to the site discover what resources you have -- and locate those he or she is most interested in -- without spending a huge amount of time exploring the site?

SN: We provide many ways for visitors to find information quickly. One of the most popular features of the Web site is the Resource Finder, which allows visitors to select from nearly 1,000 educational resources. Those resources, many of which are free and downloadable, can be searched by grade, subject matter, keyword, and media type.

The site also has an "expanding" top-level menu that allows visitors more and more choices as they go deeper into the Web site. Finally, for those who are just browsing, the site features large promotional "ads" for key resources and other highlights.

EW: Most kids are not particularly excited about museums. What is Smithsonian doing to change that perception?

SN: The site's Students section includes multimedia and interactive features that make museum resources exciting. In Apollo 11: Walking on the Moon, for example, students can relive a great moment in history -- the first manned lunar landing. The Smithsonian Kids: Collecting site features videos of real children talking about their personal collections. The feature shows children that there is no limit to the types of objects they can collect; they can and should collect things they love or that interest them.

EW: How often will the site's resources change? How can teachers keep track of the changes?

SN: The Web site is very large, with a variety of resources that are updated on different schedules. Some things, such as "fun facts" or promotional copy about resources, change weekly, while other more comprehensive content and features, such as reading suggestions and new professional development opportunities, may change monthly or on an as-needed basis. Events and exhibition opening notices change at least quarterly. Lesson plans update only with the addition of new ones, twice a year. Educators can keep up with those changes by subscribing to the Smithsonian's e-newsletter for teachers, and of course, by coming back to the Web site.

Smithsonian Teachers' Night 2003

On Friday, September 19, 2003, the Smithsonian will host educators from across the United States at its 11th annual gala open house for teachers. The event, which will be held in Arizona, Kansas, and Washington D.C., is free for educators. This year, Teachers' Night celebrates the centennial of the Wright brothers' historic flight at Kitty Hawk, with special flight-related activities, demonstrations, and guests. To learn more about Teachers' Night 2003, and to register online, go to

EW: On September 19, the Smithsonian will hold Teachers Night, an open house for educators. Can you tell me a little about the history and goals of Teachers Night?

SN: In 1992, SCEMS hosted its first Smithsonian Teachers' Night -- a small resource fair for local teachers. Since then, the event has grown into an annual open house that highlights a myriad of Smithsonian programs, exhibits, and resources. In addition, Smithsonian Teachers' Night now offers book signings, movies and planetarium shows, exhibitions, and entertainment. It attracts approximately 2,000 educators each year.

This year, Smithsonian Teachers' Night will be celebrated in three institutions -- the Challenger Space Center of Arizona in Peoria, Arizona; The Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, Kansas; and the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Last year, 2,000 teachers from 23 states attended the event. This year, thousands of educators across the nation are expected to participate, along with the U.S. Department of Education and education organizations, including the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, the National Writing Project, and The College Board's Advanced Placement Program.

At the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, teachers will be able to pick up free teaching resources for their classrooms, preview The Wright Brothers & the Invention of the Aerial Age exhibition, attend a book signing by Joy Hakim, author of A History of US, watch IMAX films, shop at museum shops, and meet museum educators. Admission is free.

The goals of Smithsonian Teachers' Night are to build community ties, to provide free teaching resources to thousands of educators and their students, and to show teachers how museums can make a difference in learning. It's also a nice way to thank teachers and celebrate the important work that they do.

EW: How can teachers learn more about utilizing museum resources in their classrooms?

SN: They can visit the Web site, sign up for the educators' e-newsletter, or participate in a professional development workshop. (Click Professional Development in the Resource Finder to search for more professional development opportunities.)

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
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