At a Glance

Design embodies both artistic ingenuity and responses to everyday problems.

Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum

According to the Cooper-Hewitt website, "The Museum presents compelling perspectives on the impact of design on daily life through active educational and curatorial programming." Collections range across 24 centuries.

What is design, and what does it have to do with history? Simply put, design can be considered an intentional solution to a human problem. Want somewhere comfortable to sit? Maybe a chair should have a padded seat. So, again, where does history come into the picture? Back to the chair. Did you know that the average seat is much deeper than they used to be a century ago? What does that tell us? Were people smaller? Do we live in larger homes with more square footage to fill? Is it social, cultural, or biological?

Ok, so design can help us think about the past. What now? Your best bet, created just for teachers, would be the educator resources. This page has a plethora of tools, including 38 pages of lesson plans. These can be searched by subject and/or grade level. Here, you'll also find discussions to which you can contribute, or even begin your own.

So, what else is there? Try browsing the collection highlights. You can always ask students to pick an object, and then research its artistic and functional heritage. When was it made? By whom? When does it look like it was made? Why did the designer choose this "look"? How is it used? How does the design reflect the time it was created? If you're looking for inspiration, you might also look through the museum's YouTube channel for lectures.

Maybe you're in the NYC area. Then, consider a visit. Take a look at their student tours, calendar of events, and professional development opportunities. You may also want to let your students know about the museum's youth programs.