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7 virtual resources and a few iCivics distance learning suggestions

(An earlier version highlighted NARA in the title rather than iCivics. Not sure what I was thinking, I corrected it March 27.  Sorry iCivics. You’re doing awesome stuff!)


The new normal is fast becoming the normal normal. But it’s always nice to hear what others are doing and using.

And I love Jenifer Hitchcock’s suggestions about structuring our normal normal distance learning instruction. It’s part of a handy toolkit that she and other folks over at iCivics have put together. I’ve summarized Jenifer’s list but you need to head over and check it out all of the details as well as their Toolkit.

Further down, I’ve also posted 11 resources that are perfect for your distance learning normal normal. So if you’re already in a normal normal teaching situation, all of this is super useful.

But if you’re still in some sort of traditional face to face setting, skip Jenifer’s tips and bounce down to the resources – still useful for you because, well . . . they’re awesome sauce for any sort of learning environment.

Here’s a quick list of some of Jenifer’s suggestions: 

  • Less is more
    Our state’s Continuous Learning Plan uses this term over and over. Get used to hearing it. There is no way we can or should expect the same amount of content delivery, student product creation, or interaction as a face to face classroom.
  • Work for asynchronous
    While we might have an idea of what the home climate of our kids used to be like, the normal normal of Spring 2020 will impact home climates in ways we can’t predict. So . . .  synchronous instruction should be part of our instructional plan, we need to create much more flexibility by planning for many more asynchronous options.
  • Be super clear
    Announce and post your schedule, assignments, and resources in multiple places and in multiple ways. Don’t assume kids will hear what you want them to hear. Whether you’re using Microsoft or Google tools or Canvas or whatever, take advantage of all the notification options. Email. Calendar. Announcements. Quick video reminders.
  • Provide back channels
    Most virtual platforms have a chat feature. Ask questions before and after any discussions. And encourage kids to connect with you directly via chat as an option. Yo Teach! is a free tool that lets you create online backchannel spaces to facilitate discussions if your platform doesn’t. Read Richard Bryne’s review and tutorial of Yo Teach to get more info.
  • Provide options
    Choice boards are perfect for the normal normal. Encourage kids to tackle both the things that they are 100% comfortable with and things that they’re interested in. Provide options for kids to develop their own choices.
  • Focus on problem solving and open-ended questions
    Jenifer says that if your work makes it easy to copy and paste, kids will copy and paste. MBQs, IDMs, SHEG are examples of longer projects that your kids can work on that require critical thinking. Scroll down to the resources below for some shorter options.
  • Tech is gonna crash
    Quizizz, Kahoot, Zoom, Padlet, Flipgrid. Whatever else you’re using. All overloaded right now and it will probably get worse before it gets better. Be careful with how much tech you try to build into a synchronous lesson. Paper and pencil stuff stills works. Have kids capture photos or videos of their work and send them on to you.
  • Be purposeful about community
    Jenifer suggests that there is such a thing as “too much unfocused community building. It can cause people anxiety when they feel like their time is being wasted. Consider building community through social media challenges that are fun, which allow kids to be creative and true to themselves” I like that.

Resources that you can use right away:


This online tool for teaching with documents is from the National Archives. Teachers can access primary source-based learning activities and assign them to students to complete online. Students can complete activities and research primary sources on a variety of topics spanning American history. (And if want to get really crazy, you have the ability to create your own specific activities.)

Virtual Field Trips:

The National Park Service has virtual tours at the Statue of LibertyYellowstone National Park in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska, Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River in New York and Pennsylvania, and Devil’s Tower National Monument. 360Parks has more.

On top of virtual hikes through 31 national parksGoogle Earth also offers virtual treks through Mt. Fuji in Japan, the Khumbu valleys at the base of Mt. Everest in Nepal, Gombe National Park in Tanzania and the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. Be sure to also explore the other tours and resources under the GE Explore tab.

Smithsonian resources:

Explore Smithsonian’s Distance Learning Resources Guide to find constantly updated resources from across the Smithsonian including high tech, low tech, and technology-free activities in all the grades. Go directly to the Social Studies section.

Use their amazing Learning Lab. Perfect for creating, curating, and sharing primary source collections with embedded guiding questions and prompts. Learn more with their new Getting Started Guide.

Google Lit Trips:

I’ve loved these ever since Jerome Burg started promoting the idea years ago. Basically, you use Google Earth to help kids make connections between place and fiction / non-fiction stories and novels. If you can’t find a completed trip you like, make one yourself use the new Project tab on the Web-based Google Earth. Better yet, have kids create their own. Get the detailed tutorial.

New York City Public Schools:

NYC Schools developed a detailed document with suggested daily activities and they’re actually pretty good. Drill down to your grade level and content, adapt, and deliver.

Google Arts and Culture:

Arts and Culture seems ready made for virtual delivery. Get a sense of the potential with this most excellent slide deck by Laura Israelsen and Kelsey Pacer from the NCSS national conference. Then explore some of the collections and get even more National Park Service goodness.

Mount Vernon:

Mount Vernon put together a super sim titled Be Washington, a first-person interactive leadership experience. Come face to face with challenges that George Washington confronted as commander in chief or president in four key scenarios. Nice way to tie to other leadership events in US and world history – Lincoln in 1861, FDR in the 30s and 40s, Trump in 2020.

Stop Disasters:

An oldie but an updated goodie. Perfect for geo, government, econ folks, Stop Disasters forces kids to make decisions about how to allocate funds and resources to prevent and mitigate seven different types of natural disasters. Hmm . . . sound familiar?

If you haven’t already jumped into the now normal normal world of #distancelearning, you’re probably pretty close to the ledge.

So remember the basics:

Take deep breaths. Less is more. Give grace. Be grateful.

You so got this.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Glenn is a curriculum and tech integration specialist, speaker, and blogger with a passion for technology and social studies. He delivers engaging professional learning across the country with a focus on consulting, presentations, and keynotes. Find out more about Glenn and how you might learn together by going to his Work with Me page.

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