Free Resources for Virtual Reality and 3D Museums
Engage and inspire students with shareable, mission relevant resources
In March 2020, nearly all American art museums closed due to the pandemic, and most stayed closed for extended periods of time. While most have reopened, ‘‘open’’ is not the same as it was a year ago. Many are open for fewer days and hours, operating under reduced capacity constraints, and requiring advance reservations and/ or timed ticketing. Most have ceased offering in-person public programs such as tours, lectures and performances, and school field trips are for now a thing of the past. (Pre-pandemic, AAMD’s 200-plus members typically served at least 40,000 schools annually.) Earned revenue from admissions, shops and restaurants has plummeted, while pandemic-related costs have soared.
Moreover, according to Giving USA, an annual report on philanthropy, charitable giving to the arts declined by 7.5 percent in 2020. And while the Paycheck Protection Program helped many museums retain staff, some were unable or ineligible to access it, and many have since had to lay off or furlough valued workers.
Three bright spots stand out. First, art museums successfully pivoted to on-line programming. Second, they have reached new audiences; in fact, an extensive survey last year found that about half of people who were consuming museum programming had not visited an art museum in the previous year. Third, they are among the safest indoor spaces. Their sophisticated HVAC systems may have been designed to keep art safe, but they turn out to keep people safe as well.
The purpose of the Association of Art Museum Directors is to support its members in increasing the contribution of art museums to society. The AAMD accomplishes this mission by establishing and maintaining the highest standards of professional practice, serving as forum for the exchange of information and ideas, and being a leader in shaping public discourse about the arts community and the role of art in society.
Free Virtual Field Trips for Students, Parents, and Educators
From kindergarten to high school, virtual field trips are a great way to get students excited about learning. And if you’re homeschooling, they’re the perfect way to get real-world experience without leaving the house!
To get the most out of the experience, keep these tips in mind:
Ask students what they’re interested in exploring
Look for virtual experiences that fit into your lesson plan for maximum impact
Search for supplementary resources like teacher guides and discussion questions
Try out the virtual tour first to make sure it’s worth it and to avoid any unpleasant technical glitches
Use virtual field trips at the beginning of a unit to introduce students to new concepts, or at the end as a reward and wrap-up activity
Be sure to follow up with students and see what they liked the most. Then, harness that excitement for your next lesson or activity!
Cultural Responsive Teaching - Virtual museum projects are culturally responsive, because they teach to and through the culture of the child and bring community concerns and values to the center of the teaching-learning process. Students are motivated to excel because they are doing important, authentic work to recover and preserve their heritage. They gain from the knowledge of museum professionals and the wisdom of community elders. They develop skills in research, writing, social studies, science, mathematics, information literacy, and twenty-first century information technology.
Cultural Revitalization - A common concern among Native American peoples is the recovery and preservation of cultures and languages. Much of what remains of traditional material cultures resides in museum collections far from Native American communities. Virtual museum projects provide a way for communities to “digitally repatriate” precious items of cultural heritage. In the Four Directions Model, virtual museum activities also take place in the Native American communities, where students research and record local materials that supplement the museum’s resources for the virtual museum. Local resources such as oral histories, cherished heirlooms, traditional stories, dances, and songs, native language and contemporary arts get combined with museum materials to present the vision of a vital, living culture.
Cultural Collaboration - Museums exist to preserve heritage and educate the public, but Native Americans sometimes object to the way museum exhibitions appropriate cultural property. Native Americans want the public to have access to authentic knowledge of their histories and cultures, but they believe that some aspects of their cultures should not be shared with outsiders. Virtual museum collaborations provide a venue where thorny issues of cultural property rights may be addressed and protocols for cultural collaboration may be designed and levels of accessibility decided.
The Smithsonian Institute is the world’s largest museum — so there are plenty of things for students to explore.
With a variety of virtual tours to choose from, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History is full of ways to get students excited about learning. Students can watch narrated tours of different exhibits ranging from history and geography to the research stations in the museum.
Whether students want to walk through the museum on their own or let someone else do the talking, there’s something for every lesson.
One of the most well-known museums in the world, students can now explore The Met’s vast collections with the Met 360º Project.
Virtual tours help students get a sense of the space, art and collections inside of the museum. Whether they’re interested in the Met Cloisters or the Arms and Armor gallery, students can go at their own pace, accompanied by a soothing soundtrack.
You can also book virtual tours with a museum guide to line up with your lesson plan. Tours are free for NYC public schools and all Title I schools, and $200 USD per class for other schools.
Another world-class museum, students can explore the British Museum in London using Google Street View, read facts about the artifacts and connect what they see to their history lessons.
Whether it’s the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles, Egyptian sculpture or any other historical treasure, there’s something every student will find interesting!
If you want to let someone else do the exploring, there’s also a 46-minute virtual walking tour, where you can skip to the sections that are most relevant to you and your class.
Edinburgh Zoo’s Panda Cam
Georgia Aquarium’s Beluga Whale Livestream
The Smithsonian National Zoo’s Naked Mole-rat Cam
A live feed of African river wildlife in Laikipia County, Kenya
The San Diego Zoo Live Ape Cam, or any of their other live animal feeds
Home Safari videos from the Cincinnati Zoo, where zookeepers introduce you to the hundreds of animals that make the zoo their home.
From Yosemite to Mesa Verde, explore some of the USA’s most beloved and beautiful national parks with The Hidden World of National Parks.
Supported by Google Arts & Culture, students can use the same technology that powers Street View to explore the national parks at their own pace.
The program also includes guided tours from park rangers, where they share their expertise as you explore. Follow the on-screen prompts and let them guide your adventure!
Play with the sea otters as they swim around Monterey Bay Aquarium in California! Tune in throughout the day to see them being fed, learn fun facts about otters and watch them play in the water.
If you’d like to check out some other aquarium-related channels, Monterey Bay Aquarium also offers Open Sea or Kelp Forest live streams.
Travel to the Pacific Ocean through a virtual adventure and see the Palau coral reefs. Hosted by Nature Lab and the Nature Conservancy, this tour teaches students about the importance of preserving some of the most fragile ecosystems in the world — no wetsuit required.
Take learning to the next level with the Nature Lab’s Teacher’s Guide, which includes discussion questions and related resources to keep learners engaged.
The Great Barrier Reef is a delicate ecosystem especially vulnerable to the effects of pollution and climate change.
David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef is a tour created in partnership with the Natural History Museum in London that teaches everyone about the beauty and fragility of one of the world’s greatest natural wonders.
The Great Barrier Reef is also available on Google Street View through Google Maps as one of the first underwater locations to be mapped.
It took the Perseverance rover about seven months to get to Mars. But thanks to this virtual tour, you and your students can go for a visit in just one afternoon.
Created by Google and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, this virtual tour takes you through the history of Mars explorations and turns what might be a far-flung topic into something right at students’ fingertips. They’ll explore the surface of Mars, learn more about the rovers that have studied its surface and understand how Mars exploration fits into the history of space travel.
Did you know that astronauts have continuously inhabited the International Space Station for 20 years? Now your class can join them!
With tours of the different parts of the space station, facts about the layout and assembly, and information about the different astronauts who’ve visited from around the world, students can get an out-of-this-world experience from the comfort of their home or classroom.
Plus, there are plenty of images, videos, graphics and media resources to help you tie topics into your curriculum.
Powering the Planet from the Nature Conservancy is an interactive lesson that focuses on renewable energy sources. It explains to students how energy around them is necessary for life, and covers how energy can be sourced in a way that’s not harmful to the environment.
All the Nature Conservancy’s programs come with a Teacher Guide, which offers lesson plans and activities relating to the virtual tour.
The Great Wall of China is over 13,000 miles long, so be sure to pack your walking shoes for this trip!
This virtual tour lets students explore key points in the Great Wall of China, plus see the history and amazing view up close.
In this online tour, students can explore the natural habitats of pandas in the forests of China. They’ll discover how the panda’s home plays a role in understanding our world, learn about local conservation efforts and see the big-picture view of how these vast forests fit into our understanding of nature and climate change.
Plus, this program also comes with a handy Teacher Guide for you to use in lesson planning!
Take a virtual field trip all the way up north to the tundra! Discovery Education’s tundra programs for elementary, middle and high school students cover the natural habitat of polar bears, plus their activities and migration patterns.
This virtual tour comes with instructional activities and classroom tie-ins, so you can be sure students are getting a productive learning experience.
Travel through Vietnam’s Son Doong, the world’s largest cave. First explored by researchers in 2009, this cave is up to 200 meters tall in some areas and even has its own jungle inside.
It’s estimated that the total length of the cave system is over 200 kilometers, and with this National Geographic tour students can explore to their heart’s content. High definition pictures and helpful facts mean that not only is this an awe-inspiring trip for students, but it’s also educational!
Because the cave is ecologically sensitive, only a certain number of tourists are allowed to visit each year. This virtual tour is a great way for kids and adults to experience the wonder up close!
Take your students on a quick trip to Paris where you can explore the architecture and art of the Louvre without the crowds.
Plus, the Louvre also offers Louvre Kids, as well as a Mona Lisa Beyond the Glass virtual app experience where users can learn how Leonardo da Vinci created his most well-known masterpiece.
Just outside of Bogotá, Columbia, is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. In this virtual lesson, students will learn about how the water cycle plays a vital role in biodiversity, and get an up-close look at the animals that call the area home.
Use the accompanying Teacher Guide to help students discuss the topic and stay engaged with the lesson. And check out the rest of the Nature Lab's YouTube channel for even more virtual experiences.
Historical Events and Landmarks
History meets the present at the Museum of the American Revolution!
This virtual tour lets students see artifacts, meet museum staff and hear stories of real people who fought for American independence.
It also comes with a Classroom Kit for 2nd to 8th grade that supplements learning and makes it even more meaningful.
This 360 degree video from National Geographic lets students explore Mt. Everest along with a group of researchers. Together, they’ll discover what kind of effects climate change has on the mountain, and how we can work to preserve natural landscapes.
Not up for climbing mountains? Take a virtual ride on Expedition Everest, the tallest rollercoaster in any Disney park! But beware — there’s a monster lurking in the dark.
Powered by Nearpod, Explore Geometry’s lesson plans connect classroom lessons with architecture in the natural world.
Students can explore the gardens of Versailles to learn about the geometry of a French garden before moving on to the next lesson and putting their skills to practical use.
UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT & CURRENT EVENTS
In Washington, D.C. the White House is the symbolic heart of America, and now students can walk the halls for themselves.
Whether they want to take a lap around the Oval Office or wander the building, students can explore this virtual tour from the White House Historical Association. Plus, it comes with class tie-ins like vocabulary lessons and other activities to make the experience even more memorable!
Ever wonder what it was like for new immigrants to see the Statue of Liberty and step foot on American soil for the first time?
Now students can experience it for themselves with this virtual tour, a collaboration between Scholastic and the National Park Service. They’ll learn the importance of immigration in the history of the United States and hear real-life stories about the people who came looking for a better life.
After students watch the video, they can click through this interactive map with facts and stories about the people who came through Ellis Island.