DigiLit Sunday: Virtual Tours in Social Studies

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DigiLit Sunday is hosted by Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche.  Head on over to Margaret’s blog to see what she and other teachers are doing with digital literacy in their classrooms.

For today’s DigiLit Sunday, I’m sharing a post I had written a long time ago about virtual tours in my Social Studies classroom.  There are many more such opportunities these days across different content areas, opportunities that lend themselves to rich cross-curricular learning experiences. 

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 them to these virtual tours.  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.  Thanks to Stacey Shubitz, I learned about Thinglink (a site that allows you to make your images interactive) during our March SOLSC, and I plan to have my students choose items of particular interest at Monticello to label with their thinking.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.  A  new program is now offered at Mount Vernon: a chance to video conference with “the people that lived with our nation’s first president.” How cool is that?!

9 thoughts on “DigiLit Sunday: Virtual Tours in Social Studies

  1. Wow, and if they write to him with ?’s, they’ll receive a reply? How wonderful is that. I missed the post about thing link, so will check that out too, Tara. So much out there to learn-I have quite a list going already! Thank you!

  2. Thanks so much for these connections. We do a Colonial Fair in June and this kind of research will be tremendously engaging for students. Excited to try thinglink.

  3. Pingback: Digital Literacy Journey: Messy and Organic | To Read To Write To Be

  4. Great resources, Tara. I have been to both Monticello and Mount Vernon with students on study tours. While that is so special, not every school (especially the public ones I teach in presently) have the funds available to take these trips for real. I can’t wait to check out the virtual tour and point my students in their direction. Thanks for linking up and promoting DigiLit Sunday. We are all in this together and by sharing, we learn so much.

  5. Like Linda, I am impressed that you can get a response to your letters! I have been wanting to visit their gardens (they have a Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants, which sounds interesting to me). I should check the virtual tour to see what’s there.

  6. Hi, Tara. Your post reminded me of a field trip my son’s fifth grade class took to Mount Vernon many years ago. It’s wonderful that schools have so many resources now — virtual visits to historic sites, and virtual visits from beloved authors are possible without leaving the classroom.

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