Museum Assignment Us History

There is always something going on at the National Museum of American History! Check out our exciting array of daily programs, exhibitions, and materials.

 This page is divided into the following segments:


  • To speed entry into the building, please ask students to carry as little as possible (backpacks, bags, etc.). Security checks are now required of Museum visitors, and all bags are thoroughly searched. 


Things to Do


Learn the story behind our national anthem, consider the roles of the President, explore Americans’ sacrifice in wartime, discover 200 years of family history in a New England house and more in our exhibitions.
  • View our introductory film, We the People in the Warner Brothers Theater. Check the events page for times on the date of your visit.
  • Create and innovate in our Spark!Lab hands-on activity space (Note: Spark!Lab is designed for children 6-12 and does not take reservations, but you can find details on bringing a group here. Spark!Lab is closed on Tuesdays).
  • Bringing children 6 and under? Stop by our new early learning space, Wegmans Wonderplace! (Note: Wonderplace is closed on Tuesdays).
  • Get your hands on history with our interactive carts.
  • Choose your favorite way to see the museum with a self-guided tour (in other words, scavenger hunts!).
  • Make the most of your visit with lesson plans related to the museum's exhibitions. 

Prepare for Your Visit

Register your group:

Complete the online registration form to help us better serve you. Groups that register will receive one free full color museum guide for each chaperone upon arrival at the Museum, up to 6 guides per registered group.

Consider accessibility concerns:

The Museum's entrances, exhibitions, restrooms, and shopping and dining areas are fully accessible. See our accessibility page for specific amenities and to request an interpreter.  The Museum has developed tip sheets and guides for students with cognitive or sensory disabilities who plan to visit the exhibitions America on the Move and the Star-Spangled Banner.

Plan for lunch:

Groups sales for lunches in our Stars and Stripes Cafe may be purchased through the group sales page. Please note that group lunches must be paid in advance of the visit, and if you pick up vouchers at the Smithsonian, you will have to do so at the box office at the National Air and Space Museum.

Brown bag lunches may be eaten outside on our terrace or on the National Mall. We do not offer storage or eating facilities for brown bag lunches inside the Museum.

Recruit chaperones:

Students in the museum must be supervised at all times.  It is vital that chaperones and teachers accompany students while in the building, both to monitor behavior and to ensure students’ safety. The required student-chaperone ratios are:

  • 1 adult for every 5 students, grades Pre-K through 2
  • 1 adult for every 10 students, grades 3 – 7
  • 1 adult for every 15 students, grades 8 – 12

Please note that if you have chaperones who will meet the group at the Museum, designate a place and time. Flag Hall at the Mall entrance on the 2nd floor has sufficient space for a group to wait.

Plan your route:

The Museum has over 150,000 square feet of public space, and it is easy to get disoriented or lost. We recommend printing museum maps for students and chaperones. Printable maps can be located here.

Prepare your students:

This orientation video for students outlines some of the most exciting exhibitions at the National Museum of American History. The video also illustrates a few museum dos and don'ts.


There’s one for teachers, too: this orientation video outlines some of the logistical details to consider when planning a field trip to the Museum.



Thinking about a scavenger hunt? There are lots of ways to think about taking a general visit to the National Museum of American History.  These blog posts will give you a few ideas:

  • Tips for teens by teens: Share this list of 10 suggestions for surviving, and enjoying, a museum visit. Written by the museum's Youth Advisory Council.
  • Think thematically: What objects symbolize America? What represents justice? This post suggests big questions that students can discuss as part of a visit to the Museum.
  • Museums are mobile-friendly: A teacher shares his plans for organizing a technology-rich trip for high school students.
  • Take a look in a book: This post suggests using picture books with young children to prepare them for visits and to help them understand what they see.

Students can also explore the Museum and answer questions about what they see by using these self-guides. Be sure to download these materials before your visit. PLEASE NOTE: Items may have been moved or taken off display. Please ask at the information desk if you need assistance.

For All Grades

See a few of the most popular objects in the Museum with this guide, designed for all ages.

Ask Yourself Exhibition Guides
These activities are designed to bring structure to a class trip while giving students the freedom to follow their own curiosity. By answering the sets of questions, students consider an exhibition as a whole and then focus on what they find most interesting.

For Preschool

Wonderplace Discover Guide
Extend your visit to Wegmans Wonderplace or use this guide to prepare your kids while you wait for a visit there!

For Elementary Grades

Museum Highlights
Grades 4-6 (.pdf) 

America on the Move Exhibition
How has transportation influenced the way we get what we eat, helped people immigrate and migrate, or affected American businesses? Find out using these self-guides.
Foods on the Move for grades 4-6 

On the Water exhibition for grades 5 - 8
Explore America as a maritime nation with this self-guide.

On the Water guide

For Middle Grades

America on the Move Exhibition
How has transportation influenced the way we get what we eat, helped people immigrate and migrate, or affected American businesses? Find out using these self-guides.

People on the Move for grades 7-9
Businesses on the Move for grades 7-9

On the Water exhibition for grades 5 - 8
Explore America as a maritime nation with this self-guide.

On the Water guide

For High School

Leadership for grades 9-12
How can we use the objects and stories in history to inspire action in our communities? Use this guide to consider examples of leadership and active participation in public life.

America on the Move Exhibition
How has transportation influenced the way we get what we eat, helped people immigrate and migrate, or affected American businesses? Find out using these self-guides.

People on the Move for grades 7-9
Businesses on the Move for grades 7-9


Other Tips for Visiting

Entering the Museum

To speed entry into the building, please ask students to carry as little as possible (backpacks, bags, etc.). Security checks are now required of Museum visitors, and all bags are thoroughly searched. 

Some Simple Rules

To ensure the enjoyment and safety of all Museum visitors, please share these rules with your students and chaperones:

  • Be considerate of all visitors
  • Walking and talking are appropriate, while running and shouting are not
  • Food, drinks, and gum, are not allowed anywhere in the museum except the designated eating areas
  • Our exhibits are delicate: Please do not touch exhibits or lean on exhibit cases
  • If students or chaperones use MP3 players, cell phones, or other electronics, please be sure that their use does not disturb other visitors

To avoid crowds...

The best time to plan a school visit is during the winter months (January and February). If you plan a visit for the spring months (March through June), which are very crowded, please keep in mind that your group may require extra supervision and you might require additional time for your visit.


Beyond Your Visit: Materials for the Classroom, After School Programs, and Home

Smithsonian's History Explorer is your gateway to innovative, standards-based online resources for teaching and learning American history, designed and developed by the National Museum of American History as part of Verizon's consortium. Explore the rich resources of the Museum and bring history to life with artifacts, primary sources, and online tools for the classroom, afterschool programs, and home.


Get the Latest!

Subscribe to our monthly e-mail newsletter. Be sure to check the "For Educators" category to receive information on new resources, events, and more. Follow @explorehistory on Twitter for educator-focused content. You can also read our blog; it takes readers behind the scenes at the Museum with insights and information about our research, collections, exhibitions, programs, and more!

Author: Karen Shelby

AHTR aims to facilitate the exchange of a number of pedagogical resources. One of the first components uploaded to the site was the museum films, but they took a back seat to the exciting blog posts that populated AHTR in its first year.

So, we thought a blog post on the reasons for making these these films, and the ways in which they could be a valuable source for instructors, would be helpful to the AHTR community. (Not least because getting permissions to film or take pictures in some of these locations is really tough – we managed to avoid the shouts of “No pictures!” from the security guards by going through the correct channels.)

Most art history instructors include a museum visit or two in the semester schedule. But what if a museum or gallery visit is difficult to arrange dependent upon geographic location of the college or university, class size, or the time the class is offered?

Even though I have access to numerous museums because I teach in New York City I found that some of these challenges prohibited my students in engaging with the museum in what I considered to be a meaningful way. I often teach jumbo art history survey classes and there’s just no way for one instructor to physically tour 100 students around a museum at once in any meaningful way. If not class size, then my city college students’ schedules – job 1, job 2, family, other classes – meant they couldn’t make the visits I scheduled. For these and many other reasons, I increasingly found that it was often no longer possible to engage the students with a teacher-led museum visit (though where I can, I always still do!).  Through several discussions with Michelle, we came up with the idea to film some of the museums in the city in order to help facilitate professor-led discussions in our classrooms before our students hit the museum.

There are certainly helpful projects out there already that pointed towards our idea. But, while Google Art Project and Google Maps allow students to view the interior and exterior of museum spaces, they are stilted and do not study the exterior façade and environment in the necessary depth of an academic exercise. We want our students to consider the politics of the museum space – how, why and where the artwork is located in the museum, and the museum architecture itself.

We ultimately got this project supported by two Baruch Learning and Technology Grants that supported the work of filmmaker and editor Thomas Shoemaker who filmed at least ten museums as well as two discussions among museum educators and art history instructors. We’re still working on uploading some of them, and also redubbing them – one part of the learning process was realizing that having a score was distracting. We are currently reinstating the “wild sound” they were created with.*

We hope that the availability of the short museum segments will enhance professor/student engagement for a variety of academic disciplines. But for art history these films can provide a number of pedagogical objectives. I use these films as introductions to the self-guided museum visits that I must now assign to the 100+ students in my jumbo courses. We also view the films in class after the students have toured the museum and handed in their formal analysis assignments. The traditional formal analysis assignment now includes a section that asks them to critically evaluate the museum space. The goal is to make them aware of how the decisions made by museum personnel subconsciously affect each visitor.  My model is Carol Duncan and Alan Wallach’s “The Universal Survey Museum.”

Duncan and Wallach analyze the Louvre, considering the information imparted to the visitor through the deliberate placement of the works of art, the organization of the galleries and the architectural frame of the Louvre. They provided me with some ideas to create a list of questions for the survey student to consider as he or she his moves through the museum, including:

  • Where is the museum located?
  • What does it look like on the exterior and interior?
  • What art historical period does it reference?
  • Why do you think this style was chosen?
  • How is the museum organized in the interior?
  • What cultures are featured?
  • Which are difficult to find?
  • What do you think about this organization?

Both Michelle and I have had some great pre- and post-visit class discussions spring from watching these films with our students. In one of Michelle’s classes, after students visited the Met independently (watching the Met Museum film before and after and discussing as a class), the students were asked to analyze the film that showed the Studio Museum in Harlem (without knowing the name of the institution) as an extra credit question on their midterm. Students showed confidence and facility with describing and interpreting the similarities and differences between the two exteriors, interiors, and neighborhoods. For example, they didn’t know the flag outside the Studio Museum in Harlem was David Hammons’ African American Flag, but they could interpret the difference between its symbolism (alternative, wishing to make a new statement about the politics inherent to the American flag) and the symbolism on the facade of the Met (classical, traditional, patriarchal). It was fun to parse this further after the exams were handed back – and to be able to continue to discuss – in a multifaceted way – spaces of display long after the museum visit had happened.

We’re pleased to have these films available and we hope they become a valuable resource to the community. The goal is to add to the collection with the help of the Kress grant, but also from contributions from our peers.

We’d love to hear what you think of this project. It’s still in beta mode. What would you need changed or adapted in order to use it in your classrooms? Could you make similar videos of institutions and places in your locality that we could post and share on AHTR?  We’d love if others in the AHTR community would add to the collection expanding it beyond the currently New York City-centered focus. Help us create some additional assignments or discussion points to be added to the AHTR site. We want your feedback and participation!

*We are in the process of editing and uploading the following films: The New Museum, The Brooklyn Museum, The Tenement Museum, and PS1 (we have some fabulous footage of Five Pointz from the 7 train before it was torn down). In addition, we recorded a conversation among Michelle, architectural historian and Big Onion Tour Guide Ted Barrow and myself about the Metropolitan Museum of Art  and another between Laura Lombard, manager of University Programs and Partnerships, and Mike Obremski, a gallery guide, at the Rubin Museum of Art.

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