On a quest for a digital merit badge


Remember show-and-tell days in primary school? Then book reports in middle school and research papers in high school? Well, those projects just got a makeover–a 21st century makeover, that is, in the form of digital badges from Smithsonian Quests.

Digital badges are similar to the kinds of badges you can earn as a Boy or Girl Scout. But instead of knot-tying or campfire-building, our digital badges, produced by the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access (formerly the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies), focus mainly on art, history and science subjects. Students participate in a series of online activities to learn about the badge subject – the environment, immigration or visual arts, for example – and submit completed assignments to SCLDA. A panel of Smithsonian educators and state- and nationally recognized teachers review the submissions and either grant the students a digital badge or provide feedback on what the student overlooked. Once a student earns a badge, it is added to the SCLDA kid-safe website to show what they’ve accomplished.

Teachers appreciate the individualized response each student receives. Margaret Gladin, who teaches eighth-grade science, technology engineering and math subjects at J.N. Fries Magnet School in Concord, N.C., praised the program, saying, “I love the individual feedback my students receive after they have completed a quest. Sometimes they receive a positive comment, and sometimes they get a little more instruction if something is not quite up to par.”

In conjunction with its recent two-part online education conference on immigration, “From Where I Stand,” SCLDA is launching two new badges aimed at celebrating students’ heritage. Proud Publisher, designed for children in kindergarten to fourth grade, asks kids to create a book with images that represent their cultural heritage. Cultural Storyteller, designed for older students in grades 5-12, asks them to focus the history and importance of a family object. Individual students or entire classrooms will submit work to SCLDA for feedback and a badge.

The Smithsonian digital badge program mixes fun with serious learning. Researchers, curators, and educators work with SCLDA to develop content for the badges that is aligned to common core and national standards of learning. Smithsonian Quest badges have been incorporated state-wide in the New York education system  grades K-12 and are even used internationally.

Nowadays, kids are practically born knowing how to use a smart phone or tablet. By creating educational activities in their digital world, the Smithsonian is getting them excited about embarking on a lifelong quest for learning.


Students working on the “Collect and Classify” quest for the  “Tree Hugger” badge from Smithsonian Quests.

Students working on the “Collect and Classify” quest for the “Tree Hugger” badge from Smithsonian Quests.

Posted: 21 May 2013
About the Author:

A public affairs assistant in the Office of Communications and External Affairs, Emily Grebenstein is a recent graduate of The George Washington University with a degree in art history and a concentration in Italian. Emily is originally from Hingham, Mass.

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