Museums in the Classroom
Examine priceless art, discover the past and conduct your own experiences through these museum programs.
Organizing a virtual field trip can be another complicated process during this especially stressful school year. How can you know which museums have created standards-approved and thorough learning resources that are worth your and your students’ time? Fortunately, we’ve partnered with institutions across the country to spotlight their slate of virtual field trip programming. Whether your students want to discover East Asian art or Transcontinental Railroad History, they can find a virtual tour to fit their interests.
AMERICAN WRITERS MUSEUM
Chicago—the city that has produced legendary authors such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Saul Bellow and Sandra Cisneros—is also home to the American Writers Museum. The first museum of its kind in the United States, this attraction honors the nation’s literary legends with interactive exhibits and community programs.
The museum also offers a suite of virtual experiences for K-12 students, including online exhibits, field trips and author talks. Currently, the museum offers downloadable learning resources to accompany virtual visits to the exhibits “My America: Immigrant and Refugee Writers Today” and “Frederick Douglass: Agitator.” “My America” explores the influence of modern immigrant and refugee writing in America on our culture, while “Frederick Douglass” celebrates the work of the famous orator and abolitionist.
Virtual field trips are a game-based interaction guiding students through content that explores text recognition, author’s purpose and media literacy. Experiences typically last 45 minutes, but times can be altered to suit specific class needs. To request a virtual field trip, educators can visit the “Education” section of the American Writers Museum website to complete a registration form. The museum will then confirm a date and time to virtually meet with the class on either Google Meet or Zoom.
The museum also hosts the Writer Wednesdays program, which involves authors who are from or write within the Chicagoland area. The program offers students an opportunity to connect with a writer once a week for a 20-minute pre-recorded lesson and a 20-30 minute live Q&A with a published author about the craft of writing.
BIRMINGHAM MUSEUM OF ART
Housing one of the most extensive collections in the Southeast, the Birmingham Museum of Art has been exposing students to artists from around the world and takes pride in advocating for local Alabama creators. While many children are beginning their school year from home, the museum’s diverse slate of virtual offerings will allow students to virtually tour exhibits, discover their inner artist and explore the institution’s vast collection all from the comfort of home.
Teachers can use the Culture Bridge program, which allows students to experience the museum’s extensive Asian art collection with videos, interactive graphics and art activities. Want to teach students the basic tenets of Hinduism and Buddhism? Students can explore elaborate renderings of religious sculptures by clicking and learning how faith manifests through symbolism.
Want to develop your students’ critical thinking skills? The 5 W’s program curates a lesson around ancient Chinese artifacts by proving curator-led videos, essay prompts, coloring sheets and quizzes that reinforce lessons about military history and spirituality.
In addition, art activities that can be printed from home and online puzzles provide fresh ways for students to discover these rich cultures. Easy search functions on the museum’s website allow teachers select activities based on grade, digital accessibility, Asian region and subject, and comprehensive lesson plans attach multiple disciples to a single object for a comprehensive lesson.
Students can also unlock their inner artist at the Studio School, a weekly series of videos where museum staff show how to create watercolor mosaics jewelry and wire sculptures from household objects.
Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown have been crucial education sites for generations. With many districts beginning their year with socially distanced learning, the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation is offering a variety of virtual learning experiences. Virtual Museum Tours use specially recorded videos of outdoor living-history areas so students can “walk through” re-creations of early America. At Jamestown Settlement, stops include three 1607 ships, a Powhatan town and English colonial fort to learn about the legacies of Jamestown and collision of cultures in 17th-century Virginia.
School groups can also virtually visit the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown to learn about critical battles of the Revolutionary War and its impact on 18th-century life. Students then participate in a 20-minute live facilitated discussion with museum educators.
Students can also participate in Exploring the Past: a series of inquiry-based programs where classrooms digitally join a Foundation educator using virtual learning platforms like WebEx. Options include “Trending Toward Revolution” (which contextualizes the buildup to war through contemporary social media) and “Early Virginia – People, Places and Things” (which challenges students to compare modern amenities to food, shelter and clothing of the past).
The Foundation also offers History Investigators, which are designed for hybrid learning arrangements. Students develop their critical thinking skills with individual modules before participating in a museum educator-led discussion.
Options include “CSI-John Smith” (where students use primary sources to determine if Smith’s famous gunpowder explosion was planned or an accident) and “Against Their Will” (which focuses on how the rich West Central African culture persevered in North America).
LIBERTY SCIENCE CENTER
The Liberty Science Center houses the most technologically advanced planetarium in North America, largest skyscraper exhibit in the world and exotic animals from across the globe. Since many students are beginning their school year at home, the “LSC in the House” program allows them to watch home scientists can conduct experiments, explore the world of LSC’s animals, find amazing movies to watch and get inspired about science and technology without ever leaving the living room.
Frequent Facebook livestreams present a variety of planetarium programming that’s modified for a rectangular screen, and shows can include planet tours, virtual meteor showers and astrology lessons. For biology class, meet one of the animals from the center’s “Eat or Be Eaten” exhibit, which includes turtles, tamarins and parrots. Keepers will demonstrate feeding techniques, natural camouflage and primate communication. Classes interested in the human body can also watch a suite of video programming presented by the Live From Surgery Team. Students can watch a heart transplant, witness a sheep brain dissection and even learn to extract DNA from a strawberry at home.
The Liberty Science Center also understands interactive activities are crucial for students working at home, and they offer several at-home experiments that utilize simple household items. “Hot and Cold: Molecules in Motion” demonstrates the relationship between temperature and molecular speed using hot water and food coloring, “Super Strong Shape” shows how dimensions affect physical strength, and “Encompassed by Forces” teaches students to create a compass using a paper clip, magnet and water.
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD MUSEUM
Located in downtown Council Bluffs, Iowa in a beautiful Beaux-Arts building, the Union Pacific Railroad Museum honors the legacy of the Transcontinental Railroad and the communities that developed around it during its construction.
As of this publication, in-person experiences are temporarily unavailable, but the museum offers an extensive online resource called “Legacy of the Transcontinental Railroad Virtual Program.” Students grades 3-12 can learn about American frontier history and technological evolution through source materials specifically aimed at various age groups. Students are encouraged to analyze the clues, consider different perspectives and draw your own conclusions.
This two-part program is flexible and adaptable to any method of at-home or in-classroom learning. Students will work with primary source documents specially selected for grades 3-6, 7-9 or 10-12 to understand the history of the Transcontinental Railroad from multiple perspectives.
The individual half involves students completing a creative project with primary sources. Students will craft an argument that answers a historical question about the Transcontinental Railroad and use historical documents to support their interpretation. The group half, conducted with the museum via video chat platform, is about delving deeper into understanding and learning from primary sources.
The museum will provide each student with a box containing primary source reproductions and other necessary materials. Resource boxes must be requested at least three weeks in advance and can be picked up or delivered.