Virtual Field Trip: Monticello

The Education Techie writes about tech tools that can help students and teachers. Have you ever wanted to take an educational field trip to a place that is too far away to reasonably visit? Thanks to the Internet, many educationally rich locations are just a few clicks away. Today, the Techie will show you how to take a virtual field trip to Monticello.

What You Can See

monticello interactive plantation view

Monticello, the stately Virginia estate of Thomas Jefferson, is no longer a private residence, serving instead as a museum honoring the Founding Father and former president. The museum's website has a number of resources, including the Monticello Explorer, an online virtual tour of the estate. The virtual resources in this interactive feature are separated into 'explore' and 'tour' categories. The explore section allows you to mouse around diagrams of the house and the plantation grounds. When you roll over a specific location, like the flower beds surrounding the house in the plantation view (pictured above), a window pops up with detailed information about that feature. In addition to this information, there are usually accompanying photographs.

In the plantation explorer, you can zoom all the way out and view the property as it existed along a timeline from the 1740s to the present. This feature shows how the property developed from a small plantation owned by Jefferson's father, Peter, to the sprawling estate of Jefferson's adulthood and finally to the much smaller and centralized property of today. It's a great visual demonstration of the way a property can develop and change over time, and it illustrates the impact of Jefferson's personal debt on his family assets.

The items in the tour category include guided virtual explorations of the house and grounds at Monticello as well as an explanation of what daily life was like while Jefferson lived there. Each of these tours includes videos narrated by well-informed staff members of the current Monticello museum. Users can navigate around the tours by clicking on different parts of maps that are displayed along with the videos. Like the explorer, many of the features in the tours include supplemental images and text to help orient users to what they're seeing.

monticello interactive house tour

The general house tour (pictured above) is peppered with biographical information about Jefferson, lending more educational depth to the experience. This biographical information includes insight into American history as well, and helps give a sense for what life was like in the 18th century. The fact that Jefferson was a slave owner is openly and matter-of-factly discussed. For example, a discussion of some of the furniture in his parlor includes mention of the fact that they were built by some of Monticello's 'enslaved joiners.'

How It Works

The site's design and interface are impressively well-executed. Only basic computer literacy is necessary to navigate the site, meaning that students of all ages can use it unsupervised. There are no ad links to external sites, so I think teachers can feel confident in allowing students to look around by themselves. Though most of the site's instructional content is straightforward, it might be a little advanced for young elementary school students. Teachers may want to supervise younger kids in the tour, mainly to ensure their comprehension of the material.

The amount of care and detail that went into developing this website is really extraordinary, making it a great stand-in for a real visit to Monticello. All of the site's features are free. If you're planning a lesson on U.S. history, architecture, Virginia, Thomas Jefferson or the 18th and early 19th centuries, this is a fantastic resource to consider incorporating into your lesson plans. The museum provides an online 'classroom' of educational resources that can be used to supplement lessons learned in the Explorer, which might be a good place for elementary teachers to start.

If you're not a teacher or a student but have an interest in any of the above-mentioned subjects, the Monticello Explorer can be a fun, informative and interesting way to while away some leisure time on the Internet.

This isn't the first virtual field trip that the Techie has taken. Previously, we showed you how to visit the Vatican from the comfort of your classroom. The Education Techie will keep searching for virtual field trip opportunities, so stay tuned for more!

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