the potential to open students' minds by giving them tools for putting objects
together and taking them apart. In the maker
classroom, students learn by creating.
For students who are investigating science and
engineering concepts or exploring history, the Smithsonian Institution now
provides digitized 3D models of artifacts from its collections to support making
in the classroom. The Smithsonian x3D initiative
employs multiple 3D capture methods to allow users to rotate, measure and
explore every nook and cranny of an object online. The website features a 3D
viewer that is compatible with most web browsers, with few modifications, as
well as Android devices.
Teachers can find models ranging from a woolly mammoth skeleton to the Wright
flyer. These two examples alone provide gateways for both history and science
exploration, with hooks for discussing biology, paleontology, engineering,
physics, math and history — making the x3D browser a valuable interdisciplinary
Users can also download the digitized scans and print them on 3D
printers, allowing students to explore the physical models kinesthetically
or innovate by altering them to become inventors and creators themselves.
Bringing 3D technology into the classroom gives students the power to mold their
own learning in ways that were previously impossible.
Due to limited space, only about 1 percent of the Smithsonian collections are
on display at any given time, leaving millions of artifacts resting on shelves
below visitors' feet, above their heads and in off-site warehouses. Digitization
of these artifacts allows the world access to some of these hidden treasures and
can give students the chance to get personal with the objects.
The Smithsonian has provided 22 digitized models on the site and is
collaborating with teachers to identify other artifacts that will be useful for
learning and teaching. Here are a few examples of the ways teachers and students
Smithsonian artifacts in the classroom:
Reassemble dinosaur bones. The Smithsonian now offers
digitized models of a wooly mammoth skeleton and a dolphin skeleton. Over the
next several years, the museum will also add its new Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton
as it is constructed. With these models, science teachers can 3D print copies of
each skeleton and allow students to examine the variations in bone structure to
see how animals with different diets and climates evolved differently.
Get inside one of history's keenest minds. During a pilot
collaboration with the Smithsonian, some schools downloaded a life mask of
Abraham Lincoln to explore how x3D can be applied to social studies. "We are
using the Lincoln life masks to allow students to approach a complex mind in a
tangible way," said educator Cory Killbane of William Penn Charter School. An
ebook will combine 3D scans of the Lincoln life masks with an interdisciplinary
learning experience for grades 8-12, including a guided historical discovery of
Lincoln to teach students Common Core-aligned historical thinking skills.
Explore another culture. The Smithsonian x3D project
provides a means for studying culturally sensitive objects even after they've
been returned to their owners for ceremonial use. For example, students can
examine in detail a clan crest hat in the form of a killer whale rising out of
the ocean, made in southern Alaska in 1900. The original artifact was returned
to the Tinglit clan in 2005, but it remains available to educators through a
high-resolution scan made with the clan's permission.
Redesign famous inventions. The Smithsonian is developing 3D
scans of key inventions from American history that form the basis for a science
and engineering curriculum. In the future, educators will be able to access full
scans of the Morse-Vail telegraph, the Charles Page motor and other major
inventions to teach multiple physical science and engineering principles, such
as electromagnetism. Schools will be able to download scans of these inventions
and adapt them, then create prototypes on their own 3D printers.
This is just the beginning. More artifacts and inventions will be added to
the Smithsonian x3D project over time, opening the horizons for both exploration and
innovation in K-12 classrooms.
What types of objects would you like to download and print?
Glen Bull is a professor of instructional technology and co-director of
the Center for Technology and Teacher Education at the Curry School of
Abrianna Nelson is a high school English and journalism teacher
and a board member of the Virginia Association of Journalism
Teachers and Advisers.