Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Natural History Investigations

60-minute programs, staff directed

During these programs, students use objects, data, scientific equipment and digital assets to investigate core scientific ideas and deeply explore natural history research and connections to current and relevant topics. Educator-led discussions link content to curriculum standards.

**UPDATE: For the latest information about these school programs, and links to field trip guides, please visit the Natural History Investigations page on the Q?rius website.

  • Biodiversity Challenge / Reefs Unleashed

    Grades 6-12

    Explore how Smithsonian scientists Chris Meyer and Nancy Knowlton measure biodiversity of coral reefs, including the mysterious dark taxa of unknown species, using non-destructive methods. Use microscopes, simulate DNA analysis, and name new species.

    Scientists estimate up to 10 million species live in the ocean, but only approximately 226,000 of those have been named. Students are faced with the real challenge that NMNH ocean scientists face to measure biodiversity in hidden places of coral reefs beyond what can be seen with the naked eye. Students will model the same scientific processes our scientists do by exploring high-resolution images of plates with the actual organisms that live in the ARMS, studying DNA barcodes, and analyzing percent coverage on plates. Through guided discussion, students connect the need to understand biodiversity of our largest ecosystem and the human connections to the health of the ocean. Register your group now.

  • Forensic Mysteries

    Grades 6-12

    Examine human bones, objects and artifacts using the forensic tools and techniques of Smithsonian scientists Doug Owsley and Kari Bruwelheide to determine age, sex, time since death, and cause of death.

    Students will learn that forensic science is far more mysterious and engaging than forensic fiction as they use the tools and problem solving skills of forensic anthropology to collect and analyze data the way that forensic anthropologists do. Students using real human bones will identify and describe people from the past and draw conclusions about their lives based upon their observations. One of two cases – Mystery at Yorktown Creek or A Grizzly Discovery - will be explored per lab. Register your group now.

  • Dig Deep

    Grades 6-12

    Collaborate with classmates to identify the most efficient way to find and dig for nonrenewable resources based on knowledge of tectonic forces and their effects. Learn to read the stories of rocks and use modeling techniques used by Smithsonian scientists Ben Andrews and Sorena Sorensen to complete the challenge.

    Students hone their skills by looking at rocks to identify geologic features and studying common objects that make use of geological resources. Based upon these patterns and features, the museum educator facilitates the modeling of the processes that made these features. Applying this content, the class then uses a large, 3D model to read a topographic map, pull core samples and as a class compete against previous class results to find the extent of the natural resource most economically. Students will discuss environmental as well as economic considerations. Register your group now.

  • DNA: Bird Strike

    Grades 6-12

    Follow in the footsteps of Smithsonian scientist Carla Dove to solve the mystery of which kinds of birds brought down a 747. Examine specimens, use microscopes, and simulate DNA analysis.

    During this lab program, students take on the role of forensic ornithologists to solve a bird-aircraft collision case by examining the bird fragments and feathers collected from the affected aircraft and processing DNA from these samples. Students will understand how bird strike data is used by aircraft engineers to design better engines, how airport managers use the data to alter airfield habitats to discourage bird use, and how pilots use data to avoid flying where birds congregate. Register your group now.


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