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The Smithsonian Institution is not a single museum, but rather the world’s largest collection of museums (sixteen) and affiliate museums (129), housing 143 million objects and hosting 45 million visitors a year. The following Smithsonian sites are just a few of my favorites. Visit the museum’s front page ( http://www.si.edu/ ) or the Smithsonian Educational Gateway ( http://smithsonianeducation.org/ ) to find more.
American Art Museum
Treasures galore await at the American Art Museum, home to the “largest collection of American art in the world.” Best sections are Education (especially Kids’ Corner, Learning with New Media, and Journey through Art) and Collections & Exhibitions (don’t miss Browse the Collection, Helios, Director’s Choice and Online Exhibitions.) My personal favorites are Bottle Caps to Brushes (in Kids’ Corner) for elementary grades, and the curator’s commentary about Vegetable Dinner by Peter Blume (in Director’s Choice) for high-school students.
National Air and Space Museum
To enter the virtual exhibits at the National Air and Space Museum, hover your mouse over Exhibitions to select either Current, Past or Web Only. Best clicks for classroom and home are the activities (some online, others offline) peppered throughout the online exhibits such as Is Air Really There (from How Things Fly) and Cyber-Center (found in Exploring the Planets.) Another exciting gallery (that is still being built) is a collection of 3-D virtual reality photographs of 335 aircraft and spacecraft. To visit, click on QuickTime Virtual Reality Project from the home page.
National Museum of American History
The National Museum of American History was my favorite Smithsonian when the kids and I visited Washington D.C. a few years ago. Its online counterpart not only lives up to my high expectations, but exceeds them. History Wired uses a rather unique Java interface to showcase some of the curators’s favorite objects. The museum houses more than three million artifacts, so choosing a handful of favorites is no small task. For more fun, click on over to any of thirty-two virtual exhibits on topics as diverse as the history of tools used to teach math, Julia Child’s kitchen, and the 1950’s paint-by-numbers craze.
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