Social Media in the Classroom: How a Virtual Field Trip Connected Thousands to Ford’s Theatre

Editor’s Note: On March 26, 2015, Discovery Education and Ford’s Theatre hosted a Virtual Field Trip, connecting with thousands of students in their classrooms. One of the teachers watching was Colin Sinko, a fifth-grade teacher at Carver Elementary School in Wendell, North Carolina. Colin subsequently brought his students to Ford’s Theatre, and the class engaged in a follow-up Skype session with Ford’s Education Department the next day. In this post, he and Ford’s Lead Teaching Artist Thembi Duncan, one of the hosts of the Virtual Field Trip, discuss Carver’s experience working with the Ford’s Education Team.

Colin Sinko: Learning is ongoing throughout a lifetime. When educators can expand learning outside of the four walls of a classroom, amazing things can happen. My fifth grade students at Carver Elementary in Wendell, North Carolina, had one of those amazing learning experiences this year with the help of Lead Teaching Artist Thembi Duncan and several other employees at Ford’s Theatre.

It all started with a Virtual Field Trip (VFT) that my students had the opportunity to experience with the help of Discovery Education. Kyle Schutt hosted the VFT that featured Thembi and Stephen Schmidt, another Ford’s Theatre teaching artist. While watching the live feed, my students wanted to share a photo as well as ask some history questions via Twitter.

Watching virtual tour from Carver Elementary in Wendell, NC! #Fords150 pic.twitter.com/CUPLQs77o8

— Colin Sinko (@cfsinko) March 26, 2015

Thembi Duncan: Immediately after filming the live Virtual Field Trip, I excitedly looked up our #Fords150 hashtag to see which schools were live tweeting during the stream. I was thrilled to discover how many teachers were tuning in to our live VFT with their students. Favorite, favorite, retweet, favorite, retweet … I couldn’t get my thumbs moving fast enough!

CS: Thembi responded to our pictures and questions, and my students’ faces lit with joy and excitement. It is moments like that when educators really feel alive! When you know that you as an educator have lit that “learning flame” within a child, it makes all the hard work worth every minute.

TD: I was eager to enrich the experience for teachers and students by engaging with them on social media while the live VFT was still fresh in their minds. Then, Colin tweeted with excitement about his plans to bring his students to visit Ford’s Theatre.

CS: We as a class began corresponding with Thembi on Twitter and that is when our class and Thembi decided to meet in person outside Ford’s Theatre exactly a month after the Discovery Education virtual field trip.

@fordstheatre thank you! Carver Elementary is looking forward to our visit on April 28! #Fords150

— Colin Sinko (@cfsinko) March 26, 2015

CS: This year was our school’s second annual Washington, D.C., fifth-grade field trip, one that we hope will continue for many years to come. Thanks to a supportive staff, PTA and Holbrook Field Trips, we have had the opportunity to take approximately 140 students to the nation’s capital.

TD: I’d briefed my education colleagues that our Carver friends would be visiting that day, but I was a block away having lunch at the exact moment that Colin and the kids were arriving outside the theatre in the ticket line.

@ThembiDuncan we have arrived at Fords! Sea of blue from Carver Elementary!

— Colin Sinko (@cfsinko) April 28, 2015

I gulped down the rest of my sandwich, ran up the street, and flung myself happily into a sea of blue t-shirts and smiles.

CS: Thembi Duncan, David McKenzie [Digital Projects Manager] and Cynthia Gertsen [Associate Director for Arts Education] graciously met all the students outside Ford’s Theatre before our tour. They helped answer students’ questions and made all of us even more excited to bring this learning experience to life as we walked into the theatre, the Petersen House and the Center for Education and Leadership.

TD: After the group visited the theatre, we stood in line with them outside the Petersen House and answered more questions. I started to feel sad that they were going to be leaving soon.

CS: David and Thembi came up with the idea to have a follow-up conversation with the students to see what their experience was like. We had an amazing Skype meeting the following day after visiting Ford’s Theatre with Thembi, David, Cynthia and Heather Hoagland [Museum Assistant]. Students had the opportunity to ask the history experts many questions about Lincoln’s history.

TD: We wanted the students to have an opportunity to reflect on the trip back to North Carolina and ask any follow-up questions upon their return. It was important to us that the students found Ford’s Theatre an accessible and interesting place to learn. We also wanted them to see how fun it was to have a job where you get to talk about history all day!

CS: Thembi and the Ford’s staff went above and beyond to make the students’ educational journey come full circle. My students had the opportunity to honor our fallen president with the help of some special Ford’s theatre employees. The students will remember this for a lifetime as they continue their educational journeys. In my professional teaching career, this experience made it to the top as far as proudest moments.

TD: Engaged teachers encourage students to be excited about the learning process. When Ford’s can provide energetic teachers with interactive learning opportunities for their students, everybody wins!

CS: Thank you Thembi and Ford’s Theatre staff for making my students’ learning experience come to life!

Thank you for making this journey possible! @ThembiDuncan @CynthiaGertsen @dpmckenzie @hlhoagland @fordstheatre https://t.co/S0oDBYHhfc

— Colin Sinko (@cfsinko) May 11, 2015

Teachers! Mr. Sinko and his class took advantage of the many ways you can connect with the Ford’s Theatre Education Department. We’d like to connect with you, too! You and/or your students can:

Check out some of the online resources we have to offer. Ask for our new Student Museum Guide when you visit Ford’s Theatre. (Preview here.) Come to one of our teacher programs. And don’t forget, our crack Education staff is a resource! You can email questions to education@fords.org. We’re also glad to schedule Skype sessions with classes after you visit.

Colin Sinko is a Wake County Public School Teacher at Carver Elementary in Wendell, NC. He has been teaching full time for eight years. His teaching career started at Elmira City School District in Elmira, NY. Colin is originally from Elmira where he attended Notre Dame High School. He went on to receive a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Cortland and a master’s degree from Elmira College. Colin is honored to be a part of Ford’s Theatre’s movement to educate the youth of America about our amazing 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.

Thembi Duncan is the Lead Teaching Artist in the Education Department. A native of the Washington area, she has performed as a professional actor in the region for 15 years. She holds a BA in Theatre from the University of Maryland and is a producer and playwright. She has worked with Ford’s Theatre since 2004, joining the Education Department in 2009.