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Summer badges and more from the Smithsonian

Looking for a way to engage kids in meaningful inquiry around their own interests and passions this summer, even when you are not around to guide them?

If you have any contact with your students or parents, or if you have some kids of your own, consider sharing the Smithsonian Quests Digital Badging program as a way to motivate kids to explore and learn wherever they are this summer, while earning recognition for their achievements.

Since the end of the 2102 school year, Smithsonian’s multidisciplinary, self-directed, project-based Digital Badging program has attractecd participants from all 50 states and countries around the world. The collection has grown to more than 100 Quests that kids can mix and match or follow as a scaffolded series. Participants connect through their after-school troops, libraries, and at home through their parents.

The Quests introduce students to the real work of scientists, historians and other experts while engaging them in the type of inquiry and critical thinking librarians can enthusiastically endorse.

Ashley Naranjo and Michelle Smith, from the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access, shared that the sweet spot for participation seems to be 4th through 10th grade.
Ashely spoke of the individual ways students approach the Quests and the value of the personal digital coaching provided by the Smithsonian’s  staff. 
As we’ve seen program grow, we’ve seen them hop around exploring their interests.  It’s fun to watch their progression.  As a student completes a project he or she receives feedback from Smithsonian educators, usually within 24 to 48 hours.  We offer suggestions to guide their research, argument, or presentation style. When they excel, we may say, “Here are some other resources you may be interested in.”  It means something to have someone outside their hometown or classroom respond to their work.

The Smithsonian Quests Digital Badging program provides safe environment for students and parents.  Once a student is logged in, internal newsfeeds share his or her achievements.  A public student showcase allows students within the same grade levels to see what their peers are doing, reinforcing the program’s community. The badges are linked to Mozilla Backpack program.  And the project is beginning to explore partnerships with the Cities of Learning movement.

I asked Ashley which of the badges was the most popular.  Though she had serious trouble choosing, when pressed, she selected the Astrophotographer Badge, an authentic, relevant marriage of art and science, that asks kids to play with raw images, data and RGA filters.

Specifically, participants are asked to:

  • Take an Image: Understand how to control a robotic telescope over the internet to take images of interesting astronomical objects.
  • Enhance It! Gain the important skills of managing and manipulating digital image data to enhance visual interpretation of astronomical objects.
  • Analyze, Compare and Share! Understand how to analyze and interpret digital images captured by telescopes to tell a story about the universe.

Other popular badges include:

H2O Hero, which asks students to take a look at how much water is used to produce everyday items and offer advice to others on ways that each of us can conserve water and limit excessive and wasteful usage of our limited resource.

Symbols Spotter, which asks students to discover symbolic meaning found over time in American art during the times of George Washington to the ceremonial presidential seal still used today.



In addition to earning digital badges this summer, students can explore the Smithsonian Online Education Conference Series, a rich, new multidisciplinary archive of hour-long sessions featuring Smithsonian curators, specialists and educators from the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, nine research centers and the National Zoo.  (Note: these are also wonderful resources to integrate into instruction come fall!)

The conferences are divided into the following sections:

What does the future hold?

Guided by the research shared in this wiki, in 2015 will be transformed into Smithsonian Learning Lab.

Aligned to Common Core standards, the new platform will feature even greater access to and more interaction with the Smithsonian collectionsWhile targeted for educators, the experience is open to all.

Users will soon be able to:

  • Search for and store Smithsonian learning resources, learning experiences, digitized museum collections, videos, podcasts, etc.
  • Create and share with learners and peers personalized learning experiences they build using a variety of resources the lab will make available, or ones they add from other sources
  • Participate in online learning experiences such as digital badging, classes, games and interactives, and conferencing.
Take a peek at these two (limited) prototype toolsets:

I suspect you are going to want to keep an eye on the progress of these multi-disciplinary, standards-aligned resources to share with classroom teacher partners next year!

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

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