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HistoryConnects challenges students: Ask Us…


The VHS is proud to announce that HistoryConnects, its award-winning distance learning outreach education initiative, has passed a huge milestone—on November 15, 2013, it  surpassed the 10,000 mark for students participating in its programs. This includes learners of all ages, from all over the country, who have been exposed to Virginia history through interactive video conferencing (IVC), Skype, or web conferencing since the initiative launched in January 2012.

In just the second half of November, the education staff have conducted thirty-five programs for more than 1,000 learners in Virginia, Washington, D.C., California, New York, Ohio, Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, Georgia, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Indiana. These include grades K-12, senior centers, public schools, private schools, a charter school, and a correctional facility.

va_regions today

Map of the five geographic regions of Virginia, one of the first standards of learning for Virginia Studies.

Additionally, the VHS education staff members have really been challenged with their latest program offering, simply entitled “Ask Us.” With the Ask Us program teachers and students contact the society with an area of history that they have an interest in learning more about, and the staff comb through VHS collections to see what can be put together for them. Initially we expected this to be something that would be used mostly toward to the end of the year when teachers were short on time while still long on history to teach, but we had requests the first week! One of the first subjects that Virginia fourth graders need to master is the geography of the Old Dominion in order to establish an understanding of where their ancestors lived. By using the impressive collection of maps at the VHS, we were able to create a program that has been popular enough to be added to our regular catalog!

John Smith's Map of Virginia

Students used historic maps like this map of Virginia from Captain John Smith to identify parts of a map and explore differences in the way maps have been used over time. (VHS Call Number: F229.S69)

Students in a middle school English class outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, were reading the historical novel Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson. The teacher contacted us hoping that we could help them better understand the history of slavery in New York City during the American Revolution. After giving a tentative yes (we only accept the challenge if we feel like our knowledge and collections can really enhance a topic), staff member Chris Van Tassell Chains by Laurie Halse Andersoncombed through VHS materials and found several links between Virginia and the story the class was reading, and he delivered three incredibly successful programs. “Students were engaged from start to finish,” said Kimberly Koch, eight grade English teacher at Lenape Middle School in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. “Students had exciting and thought-provoking questions as a result of the presentation. Their ability to visualize the real history behind the novel we are reading is much more in-depth. As an English teacher, the amount of research I would’ve needed to complete to deliver this material wouldn’t have been manageable. Using the VHS enabled me to really speak to kids about primary sources. They have a good sense of the setting of their text, they’ve linked Social Studies and English, and they see the importance of primary sources to research. I would recommend the VHS HistoryConnects programs to any educator looking to enhance classroom instruction.”

Program Coordinator Chris Van Tassell led the students on an exploration of Revolutionary NYC while making connections with the collections here at the VHS!

Program Coordinator Chris Van Tassell led the students on an exploration of Revolutionary NYC while making connections with the collections here at the VHS!

Most recently, we were asked to use our treasures to draw comparisons between the settlers who were establishing the Jamestown colony in 1607 with the Pilgrims, who a third and fourth grade class in New Albany, Indiana, had been studying. Resources like John Smith’s map of Virginia, replica artifacts from the lives of the Powhatan Indians, and a 1622 broadside, which detailed the provisions a settler would need to make it in the New World, allowed these students to make connections that surprised even their instructor, Scott Burch. “There were several interesting facts that I didn’t know about. The kids are also focusing on comparing and contrasting in their English class, so this worked beautifully as a cross-curricular program for us! We are ordering another program next month!”


This broadside from the Virginia Company of London gives us an idea of the types of provisions needed to begin a life in the Jamestown Colony. (VHS Call Number: F229 W32 1622)


These replica artifacts made by the Mattaponi Indians give students additional perspective into the lives of some of Virginia’s earliest peoples.

The ability to continue to create new programs and highlight different aspects of Virginia history with audiences around the country is incredibly exciting, and we never know what we might be asked to look at next!

Evan Liddiard is Senior Education Specialist at the Virginia Historical Society.

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