If Kahoot, Zoom, and Seesaw are relatively new additions to your lexicon, you are like many teachers, parents, and students around the country who last March found themselves having to master new learning tools. As cases of COVID-19 began spreading in early spring, school districts across the country closed their classrooms and transitioned to online learning environments. Teachers were tasked to find ways to keep students engaged and learning from afar. Ever tried to wrangle a virtual classroom of six-year-olds for circle time? It’s a herculean endeavor. Parents struggled to balance work, school, tech support, and family dynamics while sheltering at home with their children. Students faced the realities of social distancing: no playdates or field trips, and the cancellation of milestone events such as prom and graduation.
When school districts introduced new online learning tools such as the quiz platform Kahoot, virtual meeting app Zoom, and content management systems such as Seesaw and Google Classroom, teachers had to simultaneously learn how to use these new tools and search for online resources that integrated with them easily.
Enter Mount Vernon’s K12 and Youth Learning Department, which sprang into action, quickly identifing the needs of its education-focused audiences and ramping up resources to meet these needs. The department created a new Online Learning webpage for educators to highlight Mount Vernon’s best digital resources, including the primary source–based game Be Washington, digital videos of its experts, teacher-vetted lesson plans, the Mount Vernon virtual tour, online learning modules for students covering numerous topics, coloring pages, primary sources from the estate’s collection, and a host of secondary source materials. The team also worked to share the web page and resources widely, through emails to teachers, including nearly 11,000 education list subscribers, and on more than 16 web pages and resource hubs created by education and museum partners.
Over the course of its closure to the public, Mount Vernon’s dedicated team of museum educators developed new programs specifically geared to help teachers find resources and increase their own content knowledge.
A weekly livestream for teachers, “Teaching Tuesdays,” premiered on March 24 to provide instruction on incorporating resources from the Online Learning web page into virtual classrooms. Educators, parents, and even students joined staff in analyzing primary sources from Mount Vernon’s collection, playing the game Be Washington, and looking at ways to dive deeper into historical content. More than 400 teachers registered to attend an online series of six teacher professional development programs in May and June. Each of these 90-minute sessions, hosted by a lead scholar from the George Washington Teacher Institute Residential Program, focused on a different theme, including “Washington at War,” “Slavery in George Washington’s World,” and “Women in the 18th Century.”
To support students directly, a new distance learning program allowed remote classrooms to connect with experts at Mount Vernon. The staff worked with teachers to ensure students at home could sign into the program and that recordings were available for students unable to attend live. Staff offered 10 programs a week and reached more than 500 students in the first three weeks of the program—almost double the number reached through distance learning programs in the entirety of 2019. Overall, the programs reached more than 1,575 students between April and June.
This was also a period in which many parents were seeking less academic, but still educational, materials for their kids. In response, the team created an “Activities for Kids” web page featuring easy-to-create crafts, online games and activities, and links to learn more about George Washington and the 18th century.As schools and families across the United States continue to adapt to the consequences of the pandemic, Mount Vernon’s K12 and Youth Learning will continue to support evolving needs.
Explore resources and activities at mountvernon.org/digital