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Smithsonian Summer Sessions: Inspiring Civic Engagement


About This Course

How can educators of all disciplines prepare students to be active and informed participants in a democracy? Join us this summer to explore this question through the lens of six Smithsonian collections! Register for our free five-day virtual Summer Sessions and join an online community of educators across the country. Discover how museum objects can help learners explore the challenges and opportunities of living in a democracy and inspire civic action.

Museum educators will explore connections among their collections and model teaching strategies that participants can implement with their students in the classroom. We’ll introduce the Smithsonian Learning Lab, a free, online platform for accessing digital museum resources and creating interactive learning experiences with them. Participants will discover how to teach with museum resources to engage students in deeper thinking and support content learning across disciplines. Over the course of the week, you will workshop ideas with this new network of colleagues to create a learning experience for your classroom.

All educators are welcome. This institute is ideal for classroom teachers. This course is part of the Smithsonian Summer Sessions series. The previous courses are not a prerequisite for this course, the courses can be accessed here.

Course Dates and Registration Completion

The live sessions in this course begin June 27, 2022 and end July 1, 2022. For questions about registration, please email us at

Who Will You Learn From?

Course staff represent the following Smithsonian units:

Who Should Attend?

Teachers of all subjects and grades are welcome to register. The program content will be most readily applicable to humanities teachers.

What Will Participants Accomplish?

  • Gain expertise from educators from multiple Smithsonian museums through live webinar sessions
  • Build a new support network of peers in online study halls and interactive discussion boards
  • Explore inquiry-based strategies for integrating museum objects and works of art into your teaching, whether in the classroom or online
  • Learn to use a variety of educational technology tools, including the Smithsonian Learning Lab, to curate digital resource collections and share lesson ideas

What is Required of Participants?

Registered participants will be expected to attend live content sessions delivered through Zoom each day. In addition, participants will have the option to meet daily with peers to reflect on sessions and discuss ideas for classroom implementation. Live sessions will take place between the hours of 11:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. EDT daily, with breaks between sessions. Sessions will be no longer than one hour each. Three to four hours of synchronous learning will be offered each day.

Participants will also have the option to develop a learning experience for their classrooms and share lesson ideas in small groups on Friday.

The Smithsonian strives to provide programs that are accessible to all visitors. This program will provide auto-captions. For questions, or to request additional accommodations such as an ASL interpreter or live captions, please email at least three weeks in advance of the program.

About the Instructors

Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum


Kirsten McNally

Kirsten is an educator, artist, and administrator residing in New York City, where she is the Manager of Integration Programs at Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. She has worked in both school and museum settings, and hopes to create and sustain bridges between the two. In her current role, she works with teens, K-12 educators, and college students to integrate design into their practices and classrooms. Prior to this, she worked as the Director of Museum Programming at Children’s Museum of the Arts, as well as PS 20 Clinton Hill in Brooklyn, New York. She has a BFA in Photography and MAT in Art Education from Rhode Island School of Design, as well as an M.S. Ed. in Leadership in Museum Education from Bank Street Graduate School of Education.

National Museum of African American History and Culture


Candra Flanagan

Candra Flanagan is the staff lead for the Teaching and Learning unit of the Education Department at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. In this current role she oversees the development of programming and resources to assist educators in incorporating African American history in their classroom; researches and creates educational publications for use by the general public and educators; and strategizes the role of NMAAHC in the professional development of educators. Candra is dedicated to establishing research-based, audience-appropriate K-12 initiatives for educators and students. With a degree in History from the University of Maryland College Park, a degree in Social Foundations of Education and advanced coursework Educational Policy from the University of Virginia, she is passionate about the intersection between formal and informal learning as well as cultivating and encouraging life-long learning in educators.

National Museum of American History


Orlando R. Serrano, Jr., Ph.D.

Orlando Serrano manages the National Museum of American History’s educational programs for young people and educators. He supports and develops informal educational and leadership experiences for students, professional development workshops for educators, and curriculum content. Dr. Serrano is an experienced educator with expertise in teacher professional development, assessment, instruction, and educational technologies. Dr. Serrano’s research and writing have been funded by a Ford Foundation Fellowship as well as National Science Foundation and NSF EDGE-SBE Grants.

National Portrait Gallery


Ashleigh Coren

Ashleigh D. Coren is the Women’s History Content and Interpretation Curator at the National Portrait Gallery, and is also an adjunct lecturer for the University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies. She holds a BA in Art and Visual Culture from Bates College, and an MS in Archives Management from Simmons College.


Briana Zavadil White

Briana oversees the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s education programs, which serves the museum’s access, teen, youth and family, and student and teacher audiences. Inquiry and object-based learning provide the foundation for education programs at the museum. The Portrait Gallery’s programs, gallery experiences, and workshops start with the premise that by reading portraiture, visitors can springboard into rich conversations about biography, history, and art. By modeling learning to look strategies, unique ways to engage in portraiture, the education team hopes visitors will slow down and look closely in order to spark meaning making. Briana holds a B.A. in psychology, with a minor in art history, from the University of Virginia and a M.A.T. with a concentration in museum education from George Washington University.

National Postal Museum


Jessie Aucoin

Jessie Aucoin is the Director of Education and Visitor Services at the National Postal Museum. In her capacity there, she oversees the museum’s volunteer corps and floor staff as well as all programming for museum visitors, students, and teachers. Following years of teaching history and religious studies in the middle and high school classrooms, Jessie transitioned to museum education in 2006. She has since worked in a variety of institutions around the country, including a private library, a National Heritage Area, and multiple museums. She holds Bachelors of Science in both History Education and Social Sciences Education from Illinois State University.

Smithsonian American Art Museum


Elizabeth Dale-Deines

Elizabeth Dale-Deines is Teacher Programs Coordinator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Since 2014, she has taught DC-area educators and students how to engage with artworks as rich texts and provocation of deeper inquiry. She has presented at regional and national conferences on interdisciplinary education and has collaborated closely with a local research project of Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero. Elizabeth served as American Art’s Distance Learning Coordinator between 2010 and 2014, bringing the Museum’s collection to lifelong learners in the States and dependents of American military personnel around the world via videoconference. Elizabeth has a B.A. in psychology from the University of Virginia and an M.A.T. in museum education from the George Washington University.


Phoebe Hillemann

Phoebe Hillemann is the Teacher Institutes Educator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. She manages the Museum’s annual week-long summer teacher institutes, focused on integrating art across the curriculum to bolster critical thinking and content learning. Her work also involves delivering live, interactive webinars for teachers, presenting at national and regional education conferences, and inquiry-based teaching in the Museum’s galleries with students and teachers. Phoebe has a B.A. in art history from Kenyon College, and an M.S. Ed. in Leadership in Museum Education from Bank Street Graduate School of Education.

Smithsonian Office of Educational Technology


Tess Porter

Tess Porter is the Digital Content Producer at the Smithsonian Office of Educational Technology, where she focuses on the use of digital museum resources to deepen learning. Her work on the Smithsonian Learning Lab, an online platform for the creative and educational use of millions of museum resources, involves the research and creation of interactive learning experiences on history, art, and culture for projects both within the Smithsonian and in collaboration with other institutions, and the training of educators and others on how to create their own customized content on the Lab.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Technology is Required?

Participants must have access to a device with Zoom capabilities and a reliable internet connection. We recommend that participants use a computer equipped with a microphone and webcam.

How Can Participants Earn Professional Development Credit?

Participants will receive a certificate documenting their participation, including the number of professional development hours, upon completion of the course.