Natural History Investigations

60-minute workshops, led by NMNH staff for 
Grades 6-12 

Natural History Investigations will get your students engaged in investigating natural history with an immersive 60-minute program led by an energetic, knowledgeable museum facilitator.  Students will use objects, data, scientific equipment, and digital assets to investigate core ideas of natural history science and gain skills in the practices of science. Students will complete a series of activities, document their results, and discuss their conclusions with each other and the class. 

Online group registration opens in August.

Click a link to jump to a program description below.

Bird Strike Whodunit?

Students follow in the footsteps of Smithsonian scientist Carla Dove to solve the mystery of which kinds of birds brought down a 747. They examine specimens, use microscopes, and simulate DNA analysis.

During this lab program, students take on the role of forensic ornithologists to solve a bird-aircraft collision case by examining the bird fragments and feathers collected from the affected aircraft and processing DNA from these samples. Students will understand how bird strike data is used by aircraft engineers to design better engines, how airport managers use the data to alter airfield habitats to discourage bird use, and how pilots use data to avoid flying where birds congregate. Download Field Trip Guide

Dig Deep

Students collaborate with classmates to identify the most efficient way to find and dig for iron ore, by reading geologic maps, piecing together drill cores, and analyzing tectonic forces and their effects on layers of rocks. Students learn to read the stories of rocks and use modeling techniques employed by Smithsonian scientists Ben Andrews and Sorena Sorensen to complete the final challenge.
Students will hone their skills by identifying geologic features in rocks and, with the guidance of the museum educator, model how these patterns form. Applying this content, the class then uses a large, 3-D model to read a geologic map, pull core samples and as a class compete in groups to find the extent of the natural resource most efficiently. Students will discuss environmental as well as economic considerationsDownload Field Trip Guide

Forensic Mysteries

Students examine human bones, objects and artifacts using the forensic tools and techniques of Smithsonian scientists Doug Owsley and Kari Bruwelheide to determine age, sex, time since death, and cause of death for two forensic cases.

Students will learn that forensic science is far more mysterious and engaging than forensic fiction as they use the tools and problem solving skills of forensic anthropology to collect and analyze data the way that forensic anthropologists do. Students using real human bones will identify and describe people from the past and draw conclusions about their lives based upon their observations. One of two cases – Mystery at Yorktown Creek or A Grizzly Discovery - will be explored per lab. Download Field Trip Guide

Reefs Unleashed

Students explore how Smithsonian scientists Chris Meyer and Nancy Knowlton measure biodiversity of coral reefs, including the mysterious dark taxa of unknown species, using non-destructive methods. They use microscopes, simulate DNA analysis, and name new species.

Scientists estimate up to 10 million species live in the ocean, but only approximately 226,000 of those have been named. Students are faced with the real challenge that NMNH ocean scientists face to measure biodiversity in hidden places of coral reefs beyond what can be seen with the naked eye. Students will model the same scientific processes our scientists do by exploring high-resolution images of plates with the actual organisms that live in the ARMS, studying DNA barcodes, and analyzing percent coverage on plates. Through guided discussion, students connect the need to understand biodiversity of our largest ecosystem and the human connections to the health of the ocean. Download Field Trip Guide