For years, people have been asking how they could see our amazing (and many-Emmy-award-winning) electronic field trips if they missed the television broadcast or weren’t a subscribing school. Beginning today, you can see 27, as well as hundreds of other educational resources. For free.
The Colonial Williamsburg Education Resource Library makes videos, primary sources, lesson plans, and more available to everyone. While our materials were created with classroom learning in mind, these resources offer the kind of well-researched and thought-provoking history from which any citizen can benefit.
If you’re curious about the past and like to discover new stories and ponder big questions, this is for you. If you have kids, this is for them, too. And if you want to tip off their teachers about it, well, thank you. They’ll benefit additionally from lesson plans and teaching ideas for every grade level.
Let me take you on a quick tour…
First, head over to resourcelibrary.history.org. You can create a free account there. If you’re not a teacher, just ignore the questions about your school and class size—they’re optional fields. (And rest assured, we won’t use your personal information other than to send you update emails if you opt in to them.)
After creating your account, you’ll see a main menu with a welcome message. Just below, under “My Resources,” you have the option to sort resources by title, era, subject, or theme. Title is simplest. Click on Video Programs and you’ll see thumbnails for all the electronic field trips loaded to this point. Right now, that’s 27. More of them, and more of all the resources, will be added monthly.
When you select a program, you’ll see there’s the main video, but also Web Activities and a Teacher Guide.
Start with the video. These are magnificently-told stories about who we are as a people and how we got here. Witness (with some snooping kids) the debates of the Constitutional Convention. Join Daniel Boone and his family in Westward! Be moved by the portrayal of the relationship of some of our founders and their slaves in Harsh World, This World (which is probably my favorite of all of them).
Most of the videos are divided into several episodes. Some tell a single story in several short pieces, others cover a theme from different angles. But these programs all have very high production values, which is another reason they collected 16 Emmy Awards over the years. The trailer for Women of the Revolution is below.
The Web Activities for each program are interactive games created for 4th-8th grade students. Some are more didactic, others lean more toward just being fun. But don’t be afraid of trying the games just because middle school is a distant memory. We had some fun making them. You’re bound to have some fun playing them. We promise not to tell.
The Teacher Guides have lesson plans to help teachers incorporate the programs into their classrooms, but you might enjoy checking out the primary source or even the program script.
OK, back to My Resources.
The second option under Title is for Additional Teacher Resources, which are divided into elementary, middle, and high school levels. All these resources link to pdfs, so you can print any of them as you wish. There are some great resources hiding in there (make your own three-cornered paper hat!), but they’re going to appeal most to teachers.
Now scroll down below the different grade levels to Primary Source Analysis. Here you’ll find some fun stuff, the pictures, cartoons, and documents that are the raw stuff of history. A 1780 letter from Thomas Jefferson seems straightforward enough, but do you know what a “cow-pock” refers to, or what a Portolan Chart is? You will. Colonial Williamsburg: dedicated to making you smarter.
Also, ice cream molds, which guides an analysis of an object from Colonial Williamsburg’s collections. And besides, who doesn’t want to eat ice cream that looks like asparagus. Seriously, just look at that picture.
So that’s the quick overview, but returning to the My Resources screen, there are a couple of other ways to slice and dice the resources. The second tab allows you to sort by era. If there’s a period you love, or you have an idea what you might be looking for, this is a pretty good way to make the list more manageable. Once you’ve selected an Era, the navigation works the same as under Video.
As I see it, there are two reasons to look at third tab, Subject. One is to be completely impressed by how we managed to apply the history here to subjects like science, math, and music. The second reason is if you know a kid (it couldn’t be you or you wouldn’t be reading this, right?) who just isn’t that into History, but maybe likes Science or Math.
By all means use this to introduce them to the Amazing Trade Shop Science Race (that’s the trailer for it above), or the Math sequel.
And no matter who you are, if you’re a living, breathing person, you should watch the zany and funny and wonderful Colonial Idol. That one, which may or may not bear a passing resemblance to certain television talent programs, features three alternate endings so we could air the winning one according to a live vote when it was broadcast. Now, you can have your own vote.
The fourth tab, Theme, offers a little bit more of a breakdown, with categories for African American, American Indian, Daily Life, and more.
Americans are part of an enduring debate—about who we are, and where we’re going. But it starts with where we’ve been, and we’re hoping these free resources will stimulate thoughtful conversation—and maybe even a little spirited debate—about that journey.