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Virtual Field Trips: Digital History Around the World

EducationWorld is pleased to present these lesson planning ideas contributed by Kristin Marino. Marino writes for on a variety of education topics. She holds a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Nevada and has been a history buff since the fifth grade.

Historic field trips bring lessons to life. A student can see hundreds of photos and read thousands of pages about the Tower of London, but it's all a distant second to a guided tour of the gallows.

Liability issues, budget cuts and geographical issues can make packing up the class and hitting the road nearly impossible. Many employees of field trip locales are realizing the benefits of online learning and in response, have launched immersive virtual environments for students, making it possible to truly experience a place yet keep the class on school grounds. Check out these four digital history field trips and accompanying material ideas.

Online Field Trip 1: Ford's Theatre, Washington, D.C.

Ford's Theatre, site of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, is still an active theater, where visitors can see a variety of stage productions. The theater is also dedicated to preserving its historical significance. Students can explore the Ford's Theatre Web site, where they can place themselves on stage for a 360-degree view of the audience and back stage areas. Visitors can click on "hotspots" for explanations of what they're seeing from the stage. Another view puts visitors inside the actual viewing box Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot.

Students can also get a comprehensive look at the museum, which includes artifacts such as the coat Lincoln wore to the theater that night, the Treasury Guard flag that decorated the presidential box at the theater (ripped by John Wilkes Booth's spur as he leaped to the stage after shooting Lincoln), the gun used in the shooting, and a playbill and tickets from that night.

Read: "Chasing Lincoln's Killer" by James Swanson -- this accessible recounting of the assassination is a thrilling story that just happens to be true.

View: The Google Maps Street View of the theater and a virtual walk-through of Lincoln's tomb in Springfield, IL

Online Field Trip 2: Anne Frank Museum and House, Amsterdam

This engaging site offers visitors the opportunity to visit a virtual model of the Secret Annex where Anne and her family hid from the Gestapo for nearly two years. Visitors can click and go through a movable bookcase and explore the secret rooms, hearing descriptions of where they are along the way. Various points in the room can be clicked on for audio descriptions, including the markings on the wall showing where Anne's father, Otto, recorded Anne and her sister's growth.

Also included on the site are films featuring Otto Frank, the only one of the family to survive the concentration camps, discussing what happened while he was in hiding with his family and after the war. Visitors will find photographs of artifacts related to the story of Anne Frank, including her original diary, which is on display at the museum.

Read: "Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl," by Anne Frank

View: Google Maps Street View, to see what the house looks like today

Online Field Trip 3: The Mayan world, Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico

With all the interest in the Mayan calendar, which ends in December, students should be interested in visiting the Mayan Ruins. A good start is Chichen Itza, perhaps the most famous of the numerous Maya ruin sites. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is also on several "wonders of the world" lists. See the entire archaeological site from 360 degrees and "walk" around via a virtual tour or Google Maps.

Watch: "Cracking the Maya Code" on PBS Nova or read "Breaking the Maya Code" by Michael D. Coe

View: Artifacts excavated from several Mayan sites at the Museo National de Antropologica

Online Field Trip 4: Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

Sculptor Gutzon Borglum chose George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson for this awe-inspiring mountain sculpture because he believed they best represented the first 150 years of American history. See the monument up close via a virtual history tour that includes dozens of views from various vantage points, plus inside the sculptor's studio. The site also includes interactive topographical maps and 3-D scans of the presidents' faces.

Watch: American Experience, Mount Rushmore (available from PBS home video)

View: The Mount Rushmore webcam

While most historical sites have Web sites, these were chosen because of the immersive experience they offer and their ability to bring students closest to the source without actually being there.


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