National Museum of Natural History

Seven Ways to Learn About Natural History From Home

Insect expert Dan Babbitt talks about the Chilean Rose Tarantula on “Smithsonian Science How,” a video series for students. (Smithsonian Institution)
Insect expert Dan Babbitt talks about the Chilean Rose Tarantula on “Smithsonian Science How,” a video series for students. (Smithsonian Institution)

The Smithsonian’s museums may be closed in the wake of COVID-19, but you can still learn about natural history from your home. The National Museum of Natural History offers digital resources for students, teachers, parents and science-enthusiasts alike. Here are seven ways to deepen your understanding of the world around you while social distancing.

Browse the digital collections

3D rendering of a triceratops skeleton on a dark background.
This triceratops is available to view on the Smithsonian’s 3D digitization portal, along with over 2,000 specimens and artifacts from the National Museum of Natural History. (Smithsonian Institution)

The Smithsonian released millions of images into the public domain last month, including 2.8 million artifacts and specimens from the National Museum of Natural History. You can remix, download and use these images to help learn about the natural world without leaving your house. Be sure to check out the thousands of objects also available to view in 3D.

Watch The Doctor Is In”

Person holding two stuffed dinosaur toys.
Dinosaurs are all the rage in the first season of the museum's popular YouTube series "The Doctor Is In." (Smithsonian Institution)

Watch Smithsonian dino-celebrity Dr. Hans Sues talk about paleontology in the YouTube series “Doctor Is In.” Sues answers a variety of audience questions, including one from Guns N’ Roses rocker Slash, and covers topics ranging from cats to government conspiracies. Keep an eye out for season two coming soon with geologist Dr. Elizabeth Cottrell.

Take a virtual tour

White warehouse shelves holding the National Museum of Natural History's collection of antlers.
A virtual look at the antlers collection at the Museum Support Center. (Smithsonian Institution)

Tour the museum’s permanent, temporary and past exhibitions — including "Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World," which shows how epidemics spread across the world. If you want to see what’s behind the scenes, check out the Museum Support Center tour. You can see whale bones, antlers, gorilla brains, bats and more in the museum’s collections.

Visit the Ocean Portal

Screenshot of links to various ocean-related topics on the Ocean Portal website.
The Ocean Portal website has a variety of topics related to the ocean. (Smithsonian Institution)

Smithsonian’s Ocean Portal is the perfect place to visit for in-depth information about anything sea-related. Explore the anatomy of a penguin, shark conservation and topics like climate change and hurricanes. It’s a great resource for students and teachers who are transitioning to online learning, or for anyone interested in learning more about the ocean.

Explore human origins

Screenshot of the human evolutionary tree of life in white and maroon on the Smithsonian's Human Origins website..
An interactive human family tree is available on the Human Origins website. (Smithsonian Institution)

Visit the Smithsonian’s Human Origins website to explore what it means to be human and learn more about how we evolved. The site has lesson plans for teachers, 3D artifacts, videos and research from scientists at the museum.

Analyze bones

3D rendering of unearthed graves in Jamestown, Virgina.
The burial site of four colonial leaders of early Virginia. (Smithsonian Institution)

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a forensic anthropologist? Written in Bone shows you how to analyze human bones for clues about who they belonged to. Look at forensic case files from colonial burials in Virginia and Maryland to learn how Smithsonian scientists answer questions about life and death during colonial times. Or take a 3D tour of an excavation site in Jamestown, where scientists discovered four graves underneath the earliest known Protestant church in North America.

Learn from Smithsonian scientists

Two people sitting at a table with rock samples on it.
Geologist Ben Andrews and webcast host Maggy Benson discuss how explosive volcanic eruptions happen. (Smithsonian Institution)

Bring Smithsonian scientists to your virtual classroom with Science How. Choose from 50 archived videos of scientists discussing topics ranging from butterfly adaptations to the natural history of cell phones. The videos include resources for teachers divided into grade levels and worksheets for students.

Use the Smithsonian Learning Lab

A person sitting in front of a computer screen showing 3D rendering of a crab shell on a blue background.
Learning Lab gathers resources across all Smithsonian museums to help educators teach remotely. (Darren P. Milligan, Smithsonian Institution)

Smithsonian’s new Learning Lab is designed for distance learning to help educators while schools are closed. It allows teachers and students to explore natural history online, using collections items, videos, podcasts and text. Educators can search topics related to their curricula or aggregate their own collection of digital items.

Related stories:
Digitization Allows Public Access to Smithsonian's Hidden Collections
'One Health' Could Prevent the Next Coronavirus Outbreak
The Dr. Is In: Are Birds Dinosaurs and Other Questions From our Readers
Meet the People Leading the Fight Against Pandemics
Here's How Scientists Reconstruct Earth's Past Climates

Margaret Osborne

Margaret Osborne is an intern in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s Office of Communications and Public Affairs. Her journalism has appeared in the Sag Harbor Express and aired on WSHU public radio. Margaret is an undergraduate at Stony Brook University, where she majors in journalism and German language and literature and minors in environmental studies. She’s spending her last semester in Washington, D.C. and will graduate in May.

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