All Articles Education Updates Takeaways for your teaching toolbox from the Smithsonian’s free summer conference

Takeaways for your teaching toolbox from the Smithsonian’s free summer conference

At the free Smithsonian National Education summit, educators can get virtual access to more than 40 sessions featuring compelling education speakers.

8 min read


Offered free of charge, educators can tune in to the 2024 Smithsonian National Education Summit virtually to access over 40 sessions featuring Smithsonian experts in education, plus teacher leaders, inspirational keynotes and nonprofit education partners from across the country. (Smithsonian Digital Studios)

Offered free of charge, educators can tune in to the 2024 Smithsonian National Education Summit virtually to access over 40 sessions, featuring Smithsonian experts in education, plus teacher leaders, inspirational keynotes, and non-profit education partners from across the country. (Smithsonian Digital Studios)

The Smithsonian returns July 16-18 with a free interdisciplinary Summit, offering both in-person and virtual options for tuning in and exploring new ideas for teaching and learning.

The fourth annual Smithsonian National Education Summit, “Together We Thrive: Connecting at the Intersections,” features over 40 sessions and four keynote speakers from across the disciplines that will inspire educators across schools, libraries and museums with new ideas and transferable takeaways for the upcoming year.

Supporting the next generation of innovative learners

The conference begins with an opening keynote from Richard Culatta, CEO of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development and the International Society for Technology in Education. He is best known for his insights and expertise across education technology and has focused his career on creating the next generation of innovative learners.  

Culatta’s experiences include establishing a national policy agenda for education technology in the US Department of Education, authoring his book “Digital for Good: Raising Kids To Thrive in an Online World,” as well as his leadership at ISTE in designing practical curricula for K-12 students around identifying trusted online resources, understanding information bubbles and building healthy school digital cultures. 

Teachers and administrators alike face challenges about the best way to integrate technology in the classroom, from using artificial intelligence to allowing or banning cell phones. In his session, Culatta will help educators consider the elements for creating conditions to support learners with healthy digital habits at home and in school.

Going a step further to encourage social good, Culatta’s message will inspire and remind educators that technology can be a powerful tool for learning, solving humanity’s toughest problems, and bringing us closer together.

The Summit also includes virtual sessions highlighting other education technology topics and diving deeper into practical applications for teaching and learning, including:

Throughout the conference, educators will have the opportunity to select from sessions led by Smithsonian educators from across their extensive network of museums, research centers and the National Zoo, plus teachers and other nonprofit partners in education such as the World Wildlife Fund, Kentucky Humanities Council and YURI Education Project.

Takeaway: How might your practice shift this school year as you think about the integration of technology in teaching and learning? What goals might you set for you and your students? What support might be useful to provide to students’ families to ensure a cohesive bridge between at-home and in-school technology use and applications?

Attendees of the 2023 Smithsonian National Education Summit listened intently as the keynote panel kicked off a multiday conference for teaching and learning. The Summit returns this summer from July 16-18. (Norwood Photography)
Attendees of the 2023 Smithsonian National Education Summit listened intently as the keynote panel kicked off a multiday conference for teaching and learning. The Summit returns this summer from July 16-18. (Norwood Photography)

Developing teacher leaders and advocating for students’ needs

The first day of the Summit concludes with a keynote from recently named 2024 National Teacher of the Year, Missy Testerman of Rogersville, Tenn. Testerman offers decades of experience in the classroom and recently took on a new challenge of serving as her school’s English as a second language specialist. The school is situated in a small community of roughly 4,500 people, and, while many in the community can trace their lineage to Tennessee at least a hundred years, several newcomer students and their families need support as they adapt to a new place. Testerman’s goals in the classroom are always to ensure a sense of belonging for all of her students, help them explore what makes them curious and equip them with a world of knowledge outside of the four walls of her classroom.

Testerman’s key message to fellow educators is to promote teachers’ voices as experts in education and policy decision-making. Testerman strongly believes in teachers embracing their role as education experts to inform decision-makers of today’s classroom experiences to meet all students’ needs. For administrators and policymakers, too, it’s a reminder to listen and dialogue with those still in the classroom, acknowledging the vast experience they hold in supporting what’s best for students.

In addition to hearing from the 2024 National Teacher of the Year, Summit participants will also learn from other teacher leaders from across the country — including Michael Kobito (2023 Georgia Teacher of the Year), Jimmy Day (2023 Colorado Teacher of the Year), Michael Ida (2023 Hawaii Teacher of the Year) and Ashley Lockwood (2023 Delaware Teacher of the Year) — in the online session “Leveraging Art as a Key Text in Our Classrooms.” Plus, in-person attendees will have the opportunity to hear from Natalia Benjamin (2022 Minnesota Teacher of the Year), Melissa Collins (2023 Tennessee Teacher of the Year) and Ivona Todorovic (2023 North Dakota Teacher of the Year) in thed “Cultivating Changemakers in Our Communities” session.

Takeaway: How will you take on the role of advocate as an educator this year? What changes in your learning environment might be necessary to address all students’ needs? How might other educators support you?

Creating art to spark important conversations 

Author and No. 1 New York Times bestselling illustrator Nikkolas Smith begins the Summit’s second day of programming with a keynote about the power of art to convey an impactful message. This keynote session will take educators on a visual journey to talk about how art can spark important conversations around our society’s greatest “broken bones” and inspire us to make positive changes toward healing our communities. Smith’s session encapsulates the key themes that will be reinforced throughout the sessions of the Summit: Using Art To Connect the Past and Present; Inclusive Storytelling; Thinking Globally, Acting Locally; and Youth Taking Civic Action.

Smith’s most recent title, “The Artivist” is a reflection of what advocacy can look like for the causes we care about. Motivated by the realization of global inequities, a young boy embraces his dual identities as both an artist and activist, becoming an “artivist” to make a difference.

Summit sessions, including one led by Smithsonian American Art Museum educators, “Inclusive Pathways for Exploring History and Art,” highlight transferable student-centered approaches for linking historical movements to contemporary issues. In this in-person session, educators will visit the exhibition Fighters for Freedom: William H. Johnson Picturing Justice as a backdrop for a range of inclusive entry points to teaching and learning through art.

Takeaway: How might art help learners dive deep into discussions? What lessons could benefit from more clear connections between the past and the present? What opportunities might you have to engage learners in both the creation of art and critical reflection around messages portrayed in art?

Leveraging STEM to solve the greatest challenges of our time

The last keynote speaker of the Summit is Gitanjali Rao, a young innovator and author recognized by the likes of Time as 2020 Kid of the Year and Forbes as a “30 Under 30” innovator. Throughout her childhood, she has developed prize-winning innovations around testing lead content in water and a tool for early diagnosis of prescription opioid addiction. Most recently, she’s been working on a project focusing on teenage mental health and digital safety through Kindly, a browser extension that helps flag unkind messages before they are sent.  

Within minutes of hearing Rao speak, you can’t help but be inspired by her and the generation she represents. In this session, Rao will share her multidisciplinary approach to problem-solving in her innovations; advocate for the need to combine fields like technology, biology and sociology to achieve innovative solutions; and discuss the role of educational institutions in promoting interdisciplinary learning and research.

Takeaway: What opportunities exist for your learners to consider global issues within their local context? How might the blending of subject areas offer the opportunity for new perspectives on a key issue or challenge? Are there near-peer role models who might inspire your students toward taking action for the causes they care about? 

One thing that’s clear across these featured speakers is that change-makers exist and can thrive across the disciplines. From an advocate for education technology to a nationally recognized teacher, to an artivist/author/illustrator to a young innovator, each speaker provides a message that will be sure to inspire educators everywhere as they prepare to welcome learners across all subject areas, grade levels and backgrounds this school year. These are just a few of the takeaways I look forward to as I join thousands of educators from my hometown in Washington, D.C., all 50 US states, and even internationally for the 2024 Smithsonian National Education Summit.

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 


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