HM - Sept. 2014 - Van Eck

Partners In History


American History:
Virtual Field Trip Style!

By Dale Van Eck
Manager, Educational Partnerships
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
Williamsburg, Virginia

Children today are different! But not just because they mature years earlier than children did even a couple of generations ago. Not just because of the clothes they wear or don’t wear. Not just because they dye their hair and style it differently than we did when we were that age. No, today’s YouTube Generation has grown up in a new digital landscape. For most of them, there’s never been a time in their lives when computers, digital video, cell phones, video games, the Internet and all the other digital wonders that increasingly define their (and our) world haven’t surrounded them. Constant exposure to digital media has changed the way these Digital Natives process, interact and use information. As a result, DNs communicate in fundamentally different ways than any previous generation.”1

— Ian Jukes, “Understanding Digital Kids (DKs): Teaching & Learning in the New Digital Landscape,” 21st Century Fluency Project, 2008.
If children in 2008 were already “digital natives,” think about how much more digitally connected they are in 2014! How can we harness that fascination and familiarity with technology to interest them in American history? How do we as educators engage this new generation of digitally-savvy kids in the heritage of their country and foster an understanding of the rights and responsibilities of active citizenship?

What if a nationally recognized museum provided unique historically accurate and engaging resources to do just that? Colonial Williamsburg’s Electronic Field Trips are available on many public television stations, educational channels and cable channels across the United States and even in the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Canada. Beginning with the October 9, 2014 live event, they will also be available via live video stream to anyone with an Internet connection!

What is an Electronic Field Trip and how can you and your students participate? The EFTs are Emmy Award-winning live events that explore many areas of American history—and not just colonial history or the Revolutionary War, although they’re good at that too. The 2013–2014 season of live broadcasts gave students the opportunity to become engaged with the Bill of Rights, the three branches of government, women in the Revolution, and math skills, and explored slavery during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the famous battle of the Monitor and Merrimack, and the War of 1812. The Electronic Field Trips are suitable for students in grades four and up.

The first program is “The Global Economy,” which airs on October 9, 2014 from 10–11 a.m. ET and 1–2 p.m. ET. From the description of the show: “What we think of as the modern global economy is actually centuries old! Join Maggie, an adventurous rat, as she boards ships using international trade routes to make her way home from England to the American colonies. Along the way, discover the inner workings of the 18th-century mercantile system.” Simply go to the live streaming page to watch the live stream in our new media player (we recommend logging in about 15 minutes before the hour to test the stream). If you have technical issues, check out the FAQ page. There will be a Twitter feed and some instant polling options available during the event. Watch the trailer to see if the program is right for your students and your curriculum.

The initial broadcast will be followed once a month through April with topics such as:
  • The American Revolution on the Frontier: Discover how the Revolutionary War reached into the West to frontier communities in the Ohio River Valley. American Indians, French traders, British and American colonists, and African Americans faced life-changing decisions about whether to fight—and on which side.
  • How did eighteenth-century tradespeople use math?
  • Colonial Idol: Vote for outstanding musical performances in Colonial Idol! This exciting talent showcase features eighteenth-century music, including Native American songs, military tunes, enslaved people's work songs, and much more. As the judges deliberate, discover how music can influence individuals, shape public opinion and even change history.
  • The real effect of the Emancipation Proclamation: just how “free” were the former slaves?
  • Working Children: Explore the evolution of child labor in America from colonial times to today.
  • How do historians do their research, and how can students effectively evaluation information found online?
For more information about the Electronic Field Trips, go to Many free resources for teachers and students can be found on, and teachers can register for the free Teacher Community at Discover our newest online multimedia resource, HERO!

Make the Electronic Field Trips a key part of your back to school planning! We hope you will join us this October and for all seven of the live Electronic Field Trips.