Summer Institutes: Teaching the Humanities through Art at SAAM 

  • Educators, come be inspired this summer! Attend one of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's week-long institutes in the nation's capital. Join colleagues from across the country for an exciting exploration of the connections among American art, social studies, history, and English/language arts. 

    YOLANDA TONI: In my seventeen years of teaching, this is by far the best professional development that I have ever done.

    CAROL WILSON: The Summer Teacher Institutes offer educators from around the country the opportunity to spend a week of intensive professional development with us at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, exploring ways to integrate American art into rich learning experiences for their students. Teachers are active learners in our galleries, and return to their classrooms invigorated with new ideas and concrete ways to engage students.

    YT: I was so excited to come to Washington, DC and be at the Smithsonian. They had so many amazing resources and it just draws people from all over the country.

    MICHAEL HRISTAKOPOULOS: From the moment I saw their application, I knew it would be a great honor to be accepted to it, and it was! I’m glad I got to come to this place to learn from some of the world’s greatest experts on American art, about how I can incorporate it into my curriculum.

    PHOEBE HILLEMANN: Teachers come to our institute with varying levels of experience using art in their teaching. Most of our participants teach Social Studies, History, or English. So while they might have an interest, or realize innately that their students are engaged by visuals, they don’t necessarily feel confident teaching with art. What we do during this week is open that door for teachers, and help them build the knowledge and skills that they need to integrate art in a meaningful way, looking at it not just as illustration, but as rich, complex content in itself.

    MICHELLE O’BRIEN: I came to the Institute because I lacked the skills to make my classroom teaching of art student-centered. I am leaving the Institute with a plethora of skills that can be used in my humanities class but can also be used in my English classes, and that my students can put in their toolbelt and take into any of their classes and beyond, when they’re done with school.

    PH: During the Institute, teachers have the chance to spend time with a wide range of artworks in our galleries, see a variety of teaching approaches modeled, and get hands-on experience putting them into practice. We discuss how to pair works of art with historical documents and literary sources; we explore digital tools that they can use to bring art into the classroom; and we go behind the scenes to learn from experts in the Museum. Teachers come away with a physical toolkit of artworks, strategies, and activities that they can put to use immediately when they get back to school.

    JACQUELINE CARRERO: It’s hands on, so you’re not always sitting down and listening to lectures, but you go and you see the artwork and you analyze it. They have different activities, like, you work independently, and then you work with a partner, and then you work in a team. They incorporate enough time for you to explore on your own.

    PH: During the Institute, each teacher develops a lesson concept that uses American art to teach a piece of their curriculum. The possibilities for interdisciplinary connection between American art and teachers’ curricular content are endless.

    MIA GUSTELL: The way that being at the Smithsonian changed the way I approach teaching is to really be more thoughtful about the imagery I show my students in class when I teach history. Now, I’m really going to take the time to think about what the images are saying to the students and how it can be a piece for analysis.

    TERESA SHADOIN: My students are going to benefit by being able to look at a piece of art, look at it for its artistic value, but they’re also going to be able to understand the history, and they’re going to be able to apply it to their everyday lives and also make those curriculum connections.

    PH: There’s a positive spirit of collaboration and sharing ideas that is fostered here, and that professional community continues beyond the week that teachers are here at the Museum. Teachers join a network of alumni that continues to share resources with each other throughout the school year, and they receive ongoing support for lesson development from the Museum’s education staff.

    CW: Participants will learn how to connect students with our shared culture through works of art, using artworks as primary sources to unlock key moments in America’s past and present. Teachers come away confident in their ability to use these tools to enhance the content, context, and critical thinking skills needed for students to be successful learners.

    JC: The more I learned about art, the more I realized I didn’t know, and the more I wanted to keep learning.

    MO: You cannot learn from a better place with a more professional staff, or better materials, or a more gorgeous setting.

    MH: You should absolutely apply, because it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and the locale, the staff, the institution, the art – they're all masterworks, and I was lucky to be a part of it.