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Superhighway Scholars: Calling all 4th Graders
May 16, 2008

We asked SAAM's Patrick Martin, to write a post about a new Web initiative from our museum’s Education department: Superhighway Scholars.

If you listen closely, you can hear it. It’s that time of year. No, it isn’t the birds chirping, people like me sneezing, or lawnmowers coming out of hibernation. It is the rasp of no. 2 pencils being sharpened, the zip of boxes of booklets being sliced open, and the hum of scanning machines working overtime. It is standardized testing season!

Despite the importance of tests in the overall education process, did you ever reminisce about those wonderful days during fourth grade when you took the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, or the Regents Exams, or whatever version of evaluation your school district favored? We didn’t create the SAAM (Showing American Art Matters) test. We tackled a different form of possible springtime assessment. With our new Superhighway Scholars initiative at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, we aim to combine the study of state history, an elementary school requirement, with enough fun to make it memorable. We’ve mixed authentic project-based assessment with an exciting new classroom activity.

South Korean–born artist Nam June Paik’s Electronic Superhighway, a video installation (pictured right) presents his take on each of the fifty states (and Puerto Rico) in the form of a video collage within a brightly colored neon map. Superhighway Scholars is designed to be a culmination of a state-history curriculum in the spirit of the artwork. Students will create static collages to represent their states, making similar decisions to the ones Paik did. Students will write about the icons and objects they chose to represent their home states. They’ll upload their collages and essays for display on the site. We hope to have all fifty states represented so students everywhere can learn from the experiences of fourth graders all over the country! If you are a fourth-grade teacher, a student, or you know someone who is, please pass the word along. After all that testing, students are ready for a creative outlet. Superhighway Scholars will learn their state’s history and then have the chance to take a road trip on our web site without ever leaving the classroom!

Posted by Jeff on May 16, 2008 in American Art Here, Museums & Technology


"After all that testing, students are ready for a creative outlet."

I absolutely agree. However, what is the timeline for this project? With schools out or close to it for the summer, this may be a project more suitable for many of us for the next academic year. I guess what I'm wondering is when will you start posting student submissions and how long will the window for this opportunity remain opened? The wording of the post suggests it is meant as a post-test exercise for current fourth-graders.

Thanks for your questions, DD. While the project is aimed to be an authentic assessment of state history, it does not need to be a post-testing project. We hoped to be able to have it ready a little earlier. Certainly at this point, next year may be more reasonable, but we thought we might get some testers at the end of the year.

Please let me know if there are any other questions about the project, we're excited to help!

I think that this project is a WONDERFUL thing for the students to experience. I am a huge advocate of technology in the classroom, and here you have meshed art and technology to learn about our nation's states. Some of us would have a hard time remembering how to label a map of America, even more would have a harder time naming capitals, not to mention any history of the state. I bet these students will never forget due to this experience.

I also think that such projects will be very memorable for kids who participate, and may well create a life long interest in state and national affairs. Without the technology and with a different historical exposure, I had a similar opportunity when I made an elaborate blackboard drawing of Charlemagne, King of the Franks in the 8th century, to illustrate the history of the early middle ages which we were then studying. Because of the visuals- the armor, helmets, velvets and swords, the prancing horses and assembled knights - my enthusiasm and interest in this period was intense and continues to this day. I can only give thanks to my grade school teacher, Mrs. Hungai, for the initial experience!

But I did want to mention some confusion I have about the site, as to whether it is actually up (the schools represented are real and the submission page seems active), or whether it is in beta testing. I`m guessing the latter because the site is pretty shaky what with "Showcase" link and thumbnail glitches last week and today.

Can you clarify this, and please tell me what "post-testing" means? I am not an educator!

Thanks, Susan. We hope it will help students in a number of ways. First, as you mentioned, it will be a way to personalize geography. We also think it is a nice way to tie this curriculum in with the collection. Personally, I hope with this model of student created content on the site, it will foster a sense of belonging between what can be a stuffy museum world and the lives of students around the country! Tell your friends!

I remember reading about this installation, when it first came out and wondered just what the artist thought was important about our state. Is this project limited only to 4th graders? In our state, Louisiana, students learn state history in the 8th grade and are tested on on their state mandated test. I think it would be fascinating to see the differences between the 4th and 8th grade students and what they value in their home state.

Thanks, Ruth!

Most states teach history in 4th grade, so that's where the name of the blog post came from, but any student learning about state history can use it and since the assignment is open-ended, I agree that it would be cool to see what other students do with it.

Thanks, Robyn!

We hoped to get this up in time to have lots of teachers and students use it this school year, but the process was delayed a bit, so it is up and live. As you mentioned, however, the site won't be as interesting until lots of schools have participated, so tell your friends!!!

What a great piece of art. I have taught history for the last 2 years and I always make sure that my students learn the 50 states. They need to know where they live in relation to other sites. We have 5 themes of geography that the students learn and this piece of art would be such a great tool to add interest and excitement for the students. Thank you for sharing it!

What a VERY cool project!! Having a daughter who just finished studying Mississippi history in 9th grade, I had all sorts of thoughts racing through my head. The first one being: How meaningful a project like this would be to students as they would have an audience around the country with which to share their work as they study and research to learn more themselves about their home state. And not to mention the pride they could feel about their state as they look for the BEST to showcase to others. A valuable learning experience for students of any age.

I definitely agree with you that these kids need a creative outlet besides stress over standardized testing. They deserve to be able to learn in ways that are engaging to them. Away from school, kids are blogging on the MySpace or FaceBook accounts or playing computer games. This is what motivates a child in today's world, so why not let them learn in the same way they like to play? I think you are doing a great job getting your students engaged. They will remember you and your teachings forever!

Lisa, Janet, and Kim: Thanks for your comments. They help to reinforce all that we hope this project will be. My sources tell me to expect Georgia and Arkansas submissions this week and we hope to fill some other states during the summer. If anyone knows of summer enrichment programs in your area, please let us know. I think they'd be a great platform for something like this!

This speaks to what is great about technology. Students can contribute with students throughout the US. They get to share what's important to them with others. Each state is unique and students need to graphically see that. This would be a great summer project with students who might travel determining if their selections for the visited states would be the same.

This project is great. I remember in school when each grade did something special or unique to that grade. I am only sad to find out about this a year to late for my daughter to participate. (She is now going into 6th grade) But, I teach Louisiana history to my eighth graders and will have them visit and blog. I always try to have students do more creative forms of learning.

Suzanne, I'm so happy to hear that you'll think about using this with your students next year. Please let us know if you need any help!

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