If Washington, D.C., is the capital city of the United States, the Smithsonian Institution is its museum. Founded by British scientist James Smithson (1765-1829) for the “increase and diffusion” of knowledge in a bequest to the United States, the Smithsonian contains more than 142 million items in its collection. Student groups touring Washington, DC can learn about art, history, culture, science, and technology when they visit the Smithsonian Museums.
The majority of the Smithsonian’s facilities are located on the National Mall in D.C., but several also exist in Virginia, New York City, and Panama. The most notable museums are the Smithsonian Institution Building, National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History, and the National Zoo.
The Smithsonian’s Institution Building, known as the “Castle,” houses the visitor’s center, an excellent place to begin a student tour. The center provides information about the museums and the National Zoo. An 18-minute orientation video and information specialists are available to answer questions and provide assistance.
One of the Smithsonian’s most popular museums, the National Air and Space Museum presents the largest collection of aircraft and spacecraft in the world. It is also a vital center for aviation research, geology, and geophysics. In the central atrium of the NASM, the “Milestones of Flight” exhibit displays some of history’s most notable aircraft: Suspended from the rafters is The Spirit of St. Louis, the plane in which Charles Lindbergh made his first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the Mariner 2, the first probe to successfully fly past another planet. On the floor of the atrium, student groups come face to face with the command module of Apollo 11, the first mission to land astronauts on the moon, as well as a rare display of lunar rock samples. Docent-led tours, an IMAX theater, and specialized activities are available to student groups.
Preserving a record of the past for all Americans, the Museum of American History is undergoing major architectural renovations, and is scheduled to reopen in summer 2008. The museum contains more than three million artifacts. From the history of transportation to popular culture, students encounter a menagerie of fascinating items. Once renovations are completed at the museum, students will be able to view the gigantic American flag which flew over Fort McHenry and inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the Star-Spangled Banner. Other notable items in the museum’s collection include Bill Clinton’s saxophone, George Washington’s Revolutionary War uniform, and Dorothy’s ruby red slippers from Wizard of Oz. During the renovation, more than 150 objects from the museum’s historical collections are on view at the National Air and Space Museum.
Home to the famous Hope Diamond, the Museum of Natural History is also a student favorite. The museum contains 125 million specimens of plants, animals, fossils, minerals, meteorites, and human cultural artifacts. The facility is also home to about 185 professional history scientists, the world’s largest group of scientists studying natural and cultural history. In addition to one of the most significant gem and mineral collections in the world, the museum introduces students to the captivating world around them through zoology, botany, anthropology, and more.
The National Zoo, located in Rock Creek Park in the heart of D.C., is more than just a place where student group travelers can see wild animals. The 163-acre park educates visitors about wildlife conservation and endangered species. The zoo showcases 2,000 individual animals and nearly 400 different species. Some of its most famous residents are their giant pandas, Tian Tian, Mei Xiang, and their cub, Tai Shan. Tours and programs available at the zoo enhance students’ understanding and appreciation of animal diversity.
Other Smithsonian museums in Washington, DC that may be of interest to students include the National Postal Museum, which explores America’s postal history from Colonial times to the present; and the Smithsonian Art Museum, presenting works by some of the nation’s best-known artists, and the National Portrait Gallery, which focuses on images of famous Americans.
Travel Adventures is a student tour provider staffed by educators who understand the needs of teachers. It has served over one half million students since 1987 and its mission is to “empower teachers to create change by expanding the classroom to the world.” To discover more about Travel Adventures and its many educational programs, visit http://www.traveladventures.com.
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