Virtually Traveling the Silk Road with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

BGL‘s virtual field trip to the Natural History Museum of LA was our most ambitious to date. Employing the excellent new museum-wide wifi network installed by Time Warner Cable, we were able to take our Taiwanese students on a virtual journey along the Silk Road. The network was stable and fast enough throughout the amazing exhibit that we were able to actually connect to two classes at once using two different devices, bringing the field trip to twice as many students.

Traveling the Silk Road Closes April 13, 2014.

The opening of Traveling the Silk Road

We were lucky to be treated to a private, after-hours tour of the exhibit (the museum’s normal closing time – 5pm – is the start of the school day – 8am – in Taiwan). We were led by Jesse Daniel, the extremely knowledgable lead educator at the museum.  The tour started with a look at a map of the Silk Road. It was exciting for the Taiwanese students to see their island highlighted on the map; Taiwan is just across the Taiwan Strait from the easternmost sections of the road.

 

 

The Silk Road is named, of course, for silk, the luxuriously soft fabric that was confined to China before it began to be traded along the route. Our Taiwanese students were familiar with the story of Empress Leizu, who Chinese legend says first discovered silk when a silkworm’s cocoon fell into her teacup. Wishing to extract the cocoon from her cup, she unrolled the thread of the cocoon and then had the idea to weave the thread into fabric. The exhibit displayed a Chinese parchment that told this story, but the real attraction was the live silk worms in various stages of development. Our students were excited to see creatures living within the walls of the museum.

 

 

Other highlights of our journey along the road included seeing products that were traded along the route, including a fascinating mix of fruits and vegetables and musical instruments whose variety was indicative of the road’s diversity of ideas and people.

A diverse group of fruits and vegetables from various locations along the route.

A diverse group of fruits and vegetables from various locations along the route.

Jesse told us that the statue on the left is one of the exhibit's curator's favorites because the people riding on the camel clearly represent the various cultures who traded along the route.

Jesse told us that the statue on the left is one of the exhibit’s curator’s favorite pieces because the people riding on the camel clearly represent the diverse cultures who traded along the route.

Another great personal connection for our students was to learn about some of the world’s first night markets in the desert city of Turfan, where temperatures were too hot to trade during the day. Night markets are an ever present cultural phenomenon in Taiwan.

 

 

The Silk Road was the Internet of its time – the best and fastest way to exchange innovations, ideas and culture. Carrying information via camel was not quite as fast as the fiber optics and satellites we use today, a fact that was poignantly demonstrated by our ability to bring a tour of the exhibit live to students in Taiwan using handheld devices.

BGL's Teacher Seth and Teacher Travis connect to Taiwan while NHM's Jesse teaches about the camels that traveled along the Silk Road.

BGL’s Teacher Seth and Teacher Travis connect to Taiwan while NHM’s Jesse teaches about the camels that carried people and information along the Silk Road.

It was amazing to be able to utilize the Internet – the most powerful tool for information exchange the world has ever known – to learn about an ancient phenomenon that previous held that very same distinction. We and our students owe a profound thanks to the museum staff, especially Danielle Brown and Jesse Daniel, for making it happen!

-All photos and video by BGL’s Teacher Lisa Filpi.

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