Instead of loading up in a school bus for the trek to Little Rock, the fourth-grade students at St. Joseph School in Conway prepared for a field trip to the Old State House Museum by signing onto Zoom on their laptops. The mask-clad students delighted in the mini-tour exploring the gowns in the “First Ladies of Arkansas: Women of Their Times” gallery, asked questions about the items in the Arkansas State Police Collection and sculpted effigy pots as part of the “Native American Arts” program – all from the safety of their own desks (or even from their homes, in some cases).
It wasn’t a traditional field trip by any means, but it gave the students the opportunity to connect with Arkansas history in a unique, interactive environment, despite the ongoing concerns regarding COVID-19.
“I don’t think anything is going to replace a real field trip, but this was definitely the next best thing for these kids, especially since this was so well done,” said Nicole Gooch, their teacher.
The students had studied about how the plaster in the Senate Chamber (now referred to as the 1836 House of Representatives Chamber) had been deteriorated to the point of falling down when the government moved to the new capitol building. So, they were excited to share that knowledge with the Old State House Museum staff via chat when they got to that room during the tour. In fact, the chat function was in some ways an improvement over a traditional field trip, according to Gooch.
'Sometimes asking questions in front of the whole group during a field trip can be intimidating for fourth graders,' she said. 'Having that online aspect, they felt more comfortable asking questions that they may not have asked in person.'
The program for St. Joseph School was the first online field trip for the Old State House Museum. Over the summer, museum staff had evaluated its existing programs to see which ones could be adapted to a virtual environment in light of the pandemic. They experimented with online variations with participants in teacher workshops and Camp Old State House, the museum’s online summer camp. They found that mixing a variety of components - like living history presentations, video tours in the exhibit galleries and music clips - helped hold the audience’s attention in the virtual environment.
With advance scheduling, the museum can even make arrangements for the schools to get the supplies they need, like the clay and templates for the Native American Pottery program. Two members of the Old State House Museum team facilitate the programs: One leads the program line-up while the other monitors the chat and answers questions.
“Having an educator monitor the chat to answer questions and provide links to additional information allows us to interact with the students on a more personal level,” said Georganne Sisco, the museum’s education director. “We are thrilled we can continue to offer our programs to Arkansas educators during these challenging times.”
The museum has created a list of online programs available for the 2020/2021 school year, which can be obtained by emailing [email protected] In December and January, North Little Rock High School students studying medicine are scheduled for the “19th Century Medicine” and the “Medical Education at the Old State House” programs.
In addition, St. Joseph School has signed up for another online program soon. This time, they are going to learn about the history of campaign buttons in the “Buttons Up! Political Imagery through Campaign Buttons” program.
“What I liked most was that it was so well organized and well planned,” Gooch said. “It was facilitated very well – so well that I already booked another program for the same students. I hope that we can continue doing the Zoom programs even after the pandemic. They would a nice supplement to field trips since we can only do one field trip per year.”