History smArts is a museum/school partnership that offers interdisciplinary in-school experiences for Kentucky students in kindergarten through eighth grade. By bringing images and artifacts from the Kentucky Historical Society into classrooms, facilitators and educators work to increase skills in visual literacy, historical literacy, and critical thinking.
History smArts resulted from a multi-cycle KHS pilot program conducted in school year 2013-2014 funded by a two-year Institute of Museums and Library Services’ Museums for America grant. Three third-grade and three fourth-grade classes at Bridgeport Elementary School in Franklin County took part in the pilot as part of their social studies class. Its success led several teachers to ask KHS to implement the program in their schools. The program was launched to the public in fall 2014 and during its first five months, provided more than 200 in-school lessons.
The History smArts curriculum is built around inquiry-based visual thinking strategies. In the classroom, session leaders use digital images from the KHS collections to spark student discussions based on three open-ended questions: “What’s going on in this image? What do you see that makes you say that? What more can you find?” Students then practice their skills by examining and handling artifacts from the KHS teaching collections, and create something of their own inspired by the objects.
History smArts has not only benefitted local classrooms, but also served as a catalyst to change KHS’s approach to visitor learning. By transforming programs from passive instructor-led experiences to opportunities for active learner participation, KHS is developing more productive relationships with the audiences they serve and influencing the development of new state standards for social studies.