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Smithsonian X 3D and using artifacts in your classroom

A few weeks ago, the folks over at Educational Technology and Mobile Learning posted a very cool article about the equally cool Smithsonian X3D site. The Smithsonian has over 137 million objects in its collection and is able to display 1% of that to the public. The X3D project is designed to find a way to digitize in 2D and 3D at least part of the remaining 99%.

The cool part? You can begin using the site right now to bring artifacts directly into your classroom.

We’ve always known the power of primary sources and artifacts to help our students make sense of the past. Things become much more real to kids when they can touch and hold stuff. And while the Smithsonian X3D tool doesn’t actually let them hold artifacts, it’s as real as you can get without traveling to Washington D.C.

The SIx3D viewer offers students the ability to explore some of the Smithsonian’s most treasured objects with a level of control that has never been possible until now. We hope this revolutionary level of access to the Smithsonian collections will spark your students’ curiosity and that the exploration of these objects will enable them to build lifelong observation and critical thinking skills.

The site has a limited number of artifacts in 3D but will continue to add more. But what they have is pretty sweet. The 3D viewer lets you and your kids “handle” the objects; measure, zoom in and out, rotate, adjust the light source, print, even print in 3D – pretty much whatever you want.

smithsonian x3d

Each object also comes with background information that provides valuable sourcing data.

Use the National Archives Artifact Analysis Worksheet and its questions to help kids make sense of the different things they’re looking at – use the online version, print it out and share with students, or mix / match the questions to fit your lesson.

1. Type of artifact?

  • Describe the material from which it was made: bone, pottery, metal, wood, stone, leather, glass, paper, cardboard, cotton, plastic, other material.

2. Special qualities of the artifact?

  • Describe how it looks and feels: shape, color, texture, size, weight, movable parts, anything printed, stamped or written on it.

3. Uses of the artifact?

  • What might it have been used for?
  • Who might have used it?
  • Where might it have been used? D. When might it have been used?

4. What does the artifact tell us?

  • What does it tell us about technology of the time in which it was made and used?
  • What does it tell us about the life and times of the people who made it and used it? C. Can you name a similar item today?

5. Sketch or take a photograph of the artifact

Be sure to also check out Smithsonian’s History Explorer, an earlier site that focuses on using artifacts in the classroom.

You might also be interested in a few other handy sites:

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