Social Studies Wednesdays: Bringing virtual tours into the classroom

Social Studies Wednesdays
Welcome to Social Studies Wednesday!  I hope you will stop by to share ideas and resources for teaching Social Studies. Please comment and  leave a link to your post, I’ll check in and  round up contributions throughout the day.  If you don’t have a link to share, please leave a comment about the posts in the round up. It’s always good to hear your feedback!


Our sixth grade social studies curriculum spans the forming of the United States of America all the way to the end of the Civil War – there is a LOT of important and interesting ground to cover.  We meet and learn about  so many fascinating people, and I try very hard to make these figures from long ago come alive for my students. We study paintings, we read excerpts from journals, speeches and letters,  and we investigate what other people have thought of and written about Thomas Jefferson, or Abraham Lincoln or John Adams.  
My sixth graders have become pretty adept at working with text sources, but our social studies class really comes alive when I introduce a person a virtual tour of their home.  How better to learn about George Washington or Thomas Jefferson than to visit their homes, check out the things they collected and the way they chose to go about their daily lives?  
The “General House Tour” at Monticello  is by far the most detailed virtual tour I have found.  Curator Susan Stein guides you room by room, stopping to explain details and point out the significance of artifacts.  Did you know, for instance, that Jefferson’s daughter mapped out the lay out and position of every painting and piece of furniture as placed by Jefferson himself?  And good thing she did: the Monticello we visit today looks exactly the way it did when Jefferson lived there because of this map!  A few summers ago, I “toured” Monticello virtually myself and created a trail map of things to take note of – this gives their visit some structure, although they are free to investigate further with a click on this or that item they find particularly interesting. 

Monticello Virtual Tour
One of our favorite activities is to get together at the end of our tours and write a letter to Mr. Jefferson, asking a question or two or commenting about something we were amazed about. The best part about this…he writes back!  No matter how much we’ve read about Jefferson, I feel that my students really feel they know him so much better, and find him so much more interesting, after this activity. 

Mount Vernon, George Washington’s plantation on the Potomac River, offers  another magnificent virtual tour.  Although this one does not offer an expert tour guide, the captions are detailed and filled with interesting information.  Wide angle shots and panoramic views of each room allow students to study objects and paintings up close, and they can plot their own path from room to room and floor to floor.  For this particular virtual tour, my students create guide books of their own, describing and listing points of interest and note.  Next year, I hope to get my kids to participate in a new program offered at Mount Vernon: a chance to video conference with “the people that lived with our nation’s first president.” How cool is that?!
The Round up:
Linda at TeacherDance  shares a thoughtful post about how to use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a way to show our students how to “learn some reasons for people’s acts, to try to figure out their world. Even young children can benefit from a conversation about the differences between “wants” and “needs”. “  So much of what happens in history is motivated by wants and needs, and Linda’s ideas allow us to see these connections in Social Studies.

4 thoughts on “Social Studies Wednesdays: Bringing virtual tours into the classroom

  1. Excellent first post! I always start our SS year with "you are living history." so bringing history alive is amazing. Yesterday we spent the day at Plymouth Plantation virtually taking a tour allowing students to see why it was the first successful colony.

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